Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fathers' Day


If you were looking for Poetry Sunday, don’t despair – because it's Father's Day and I have my traditional (if updated) tribute to fathers today, your poetry fix for the week will appear in this space tomorrow. Come back then, but be sure to read on today as well ...

Today is Fathers’ Day, the day we honor the man who contributed half of our chromosomes and many of the life lessons that shaped us into who we are.

Fathers don’t always get the same degree of respect that mothers do. We work in design, rather than production, after all, and don’t earn the credit that mothers do for going through nine months of pregnancy followed by months of sleepless nights and years of worry. And truth be told, many fathers don’t earn that respect. For all too many men, fatherhood is an unfortunate side effect of good sex, and a child is an impediment to the enjoyment of life. For many men, fathering a lot of children by a lot of women is the imagined sign of a manly stud ... not of lives betrayed by a thoughtless ass who thinks with his man parts* instead of his brain and heart.

Luckily, though, there are many good men out there trying their best to be good fathers. It’s not an easy job, and not everyone does it successfully ... but fortunately, enough do.

I have often reflected back on the course of my life, and I've come to the conclusion I’ve been a much better grandfather than I was a father. This is probably normal. You’ve seen more of life, and had more experiences – good and bad – to share. If you’re the grandfather, you get to be the gentle, wise, let-‘em-do-what-they-want fellow the children love to see, rather than the grouchy, tired father who has to put bread on the table, crack the whip, and enforce the discipline. You get all the joy of holding and loving the children with none of the negatives ... when the baby needs changing, for instance, there's none of that messy fuss - you just give her back to her mother. What's not to like?

I think that, from the father's perspective, we have our children too early in life. We're still learning how to be adults, and all of a sudden we're fathers, responsible for teaching our children all the lessons of life that we haven't even learned yet. Our children grow up as much in spite of our mistakes as because of our excellence in parenting.

When you get to be a father, you look at your own father differently. It was Mark Twain who supposedly once said, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

It's true.

A good father, as I came in time to understand, is a gift beyond all price. The gold standard for fatherhood is, of course, my own father. He fought the Nazis** in the skies over World War II Europe, ran his own business, raised four children and buried one, and cared for mom through the long years of misery as Alzheimer's gradually destroyed the mind of the dynamic and witty woman he loved. Dad left us this past January and I no longer get to hear his jokes and stories and learn the lessons he still had to teach, yet he remains the man to whom I owe whatever shreds of honor, decency, and ... well ... manhood that I can claim.

This was the man who battled for our freedom in 1944 ...


Here he is at the Mount Vernon Wine Festival in 2002, surrounded by admiring ladies (from left to right: our friends Susan and Nadja, our daughter Yasmin, and Agnes) ...


Here he is with my brother Mark and I, on the occasion of Mark's retirement from the Navy (our brother Paul served in the Army, but wasn't able to be there) ...


And here he is in December of 2013 at his 90th birthday party in Pittsburgh, surrounded by the friends and family members who came out to honor him in spite of some really ghastly winter weather ...


I'd like to think I made him satisfied, if not proud.

If you’d like to know more about the life of this wonderful man, who left us this past January, you can read my remembrance here.

It's politically correct (bordering on mandatory) nowadays to say that a child can grow up just fine in a household with same-sex "parents," but you'll never be able to convince me that it's the same as being raised by a father and a mother who love each other, treat each other with dignity and respect, set a good example, teach their gender-specific life lessons, and subordinate their own dreams and desires to the momentous task of raising a brand new human being.

On Fathers' Day, this wonderful song by Dan Fogelberg sums it all up for me ...



Have a good day. Honor your father. And if you're a father, be a good one ... preferably a better one than I was. Your children ... and, indeed, the future ... are depending on you.

More thoughts later.

Bilbo

*  As Missandei would say. If you're into "Game of Thrones," you'll get it.

** The real ones, the ones that murdered millions of innocent people and destroyed most of Europe, not the imaginary ones to which stupid people in this country compare their political opponents.

4 comments:

John Hill said...

Very nice, Bill!
Happy Father's Day!

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Happy Father's Day, Bilbo! I'm sure you were an excellent father.

Mike said...

Have a good father's day.

allenwoodhaven said...

Happy Father's Day. Yours was certainly a good man who helped the world be a better place. and I'd wager you have too.