Friday, June 16, 2006

On Fathers

My Dad wasn't the easiest person to live with. There were times I marveled that Mom stayed with him for nearly 50 years. Looking back, the sadness, disappointment and pressures of his past weighed him down heavily in depression for many many years. It wasn't called that when I was a kid. It was called "being cranky". There were days that my Mom would slave over a dinner, which we ate together, only to have him push it away an make a bologna sandwich. At the time, I thought he was being picky and wasteful and inconsiderate. Looking back, I wonder if he felt unworthy of a decent meal at home, when his job had been one of almost constant travel and sales. Raised through the Great Depression, his family wandered through the Texas Oil Patch following my grandfather's job changes. That had to have an effect on an only child. I suppose that hindsight is twenty-twenty. I wish I had been wiser and more forgiving of his moods at an earlier age. It's easier to recall the bad things, they don't hurt.

Although he wasn't the easy going Ward Cleaver type of Dad, and although he traveled, I will say that my Dad coached our teams, watched our plays and concerts and was there emotionally to the limits of conventional behavior of the times. He wasn't the warm touchy-feely Dad of today's sometimes unrealistic imagery, but he would support us to the ends of the world. Even as an adult, when I was dealing with a difficult problem at work or with my kids at school, he would say ,"Do you want me to go talk to them?" There was the unspoken offer of support. Unlike so many fathers who were wealthier or more successful or more famous, he was always there.

Dad never considered himself successful, which was a burden that he carried throughout life. The promise of his success in college never bloomed, largely because unlike the shakers and movers, my Dad was honest and he was loyal. He didn't think he should jump from job to job. His word was his bond. There was not a city in the Southwestern US in which he didn't know someone. And yet the Harvard-fueled business systems of the 70's and 80's only valued the young and innovative, over the loyal and hardworking. He was forced to change jobs many times and worked literally until he died. He never had a chance to retire. He never had the country home and leisure time. In many ways his work killed him in the end. He was scared when he sold our home in Dallas and moved my Mom to a small east Texas town. I suppose he was trying to recapture a simpler time from his ideas of small, safe, idyllic towns of his childhood. Instead, he and Mom ended up isolated from friends and church and family. It didn't have to be that way, but that is how it was.

It's easier in some respects to remember the bad. I can recall that without pain. What hurts is remembering the good. I laugh when I recall the time that the basketball game depended on my very scanty freethrow skills. He couldn't look from the coaches bench, but I made the shot. I remember how he was the first to see the brilliance in my youngest child who has had a number of learning difficulties to overcome. I remember the room divider he built from a picture I saw in a teen magazine. Rather than 2 by 4's he used thinner wood and the thing leaned dangerously and drunkenly around my bedroom as we laughed. I remember when he tried to put in ceiling tiles in an attic room. The hot Texas sun melted the adhesive and the tiles hung crazily from the ceiling. And we laughed. Bad jokes, puns, his enduring love and talent for playing trumpet. His stories of playing in big bands to work his way through SMU, his stories of meeting Bush 41 as a customer returning oil field supplies and getting cussed out when he told him noall that lingers as a thin ghost of his career in sales. Dad's patriotism, his interest in politics and his faith are all key things that I can recall. Even now I see his face, animated and talking- always The Consummate Salesman. I remember his love of chocolate and how he always had candy, even when he visited to watch the boys play football and soccer. I remember he loved my mom and he and I went shopping together every Christmas and Mother's Day. He sent her flowers and chocolate covered cherries and stayed even when times were bad. And there were bad times. When I was going through the cards after he died, there were messages from secretaries and office managers and customers that had known Dad for decades fondly recalling how he charmed them with his jokes and candy. And those memories hurt because they are gone and there's a hole inside that just won't be filled.

I don't think most people realize the hole left in kids whose fathers are absent. Whether due to lack of interest or travel or military responsibilities, kids who don't have fathers have holes in their lives. Fathers are often the ones who set limits, they often are willing to compete and to have fun. Fathers encourage daughters to be women of self-reliance, they encourage boys to stand on their own. We have a generation of children who are raised by women, and this is a brave cause, but children need men in their lives as well. Fatherhood isn't celebrated as much as Motherhood. I suppose, as with the matriarchal nature of Jewish heritage, this is because, you always known your mother. But Fatherhood should be important. Our young men need to know that they aren't just sperm donors and that their contributions in raising families and building character in children is just as essential as the nurturing recieved from mothers. I pity the children who have fathers who are absent emotionally or physically, and I pity the fathers who often try to reconnect years later when so much time was wasted and has passed.

Although he annoys me politically, I have always loved Cat Stevens songs. The lyrics of "So Very Young" and "Cat's In The Cradle" from the album Tea For The Tillerman express that need for Fathers so vividly. Those songs speak so clearly on the issues of Fatherhood and of Fatherhood Lost and Found. I didn't write this to depress people, or to lecture. I supposed it's a cautionary tale. Don't take the Father in your life, whether husband, brother, father or son, for granted. They are holding up half the world, just as Mothers do. Both are important.

In memory and love of my Dad, who died on Christmas 2002. I hate to say it, but at first I thought it was deliberate of him to "choose" to die on Christmas, to ruin the holiday for the rest of our family's lives, but now I know he had no choice and the only thing he really wanted was to be sure that we would remember him. I won't forget. Don't you forget either.

Cats in the Cradle
by Harry Chapin
A child arrived just the other dayHe came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking before I knew it and as he grew
He said, "I’m gonna be like you, Dad, You know I’m gonna be like you"
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Dad, I don’t know when,
But we'll get together then,
You know we'll have a good time then.
My son turned ten just the other day
He said "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on lets playcan you teach me to throw?"
I said, "Not today, I got a lot to do"
He said "Thats okay"
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said "I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m going to be like him"
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Dad, I dont know when,
But we'll get together then,You know we'll have a good time then.
Well he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say,
"Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head, and he said with a smile
"What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?"
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Son, I dont know when,
But we'll get together then, Dad
You know we'll have a good time then.
I’ve long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said "Id like to see you if you don’t mind
"He said "Id love to Dad, if I could find the time.
You see my new jobs a hassle, and the kids have the flu.
But It's sure nice talking to you, Dad,
It's been sure nice talking to you........
"And as I hung up the phone it had occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me,
My boy was just like me..............
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Son, I dont know when,
But we'll get together then, Dad
We're gonna have a good time then.


Forty_Two said...

I responded to one of Darren's questions here. I was wondering what you thought of it.

Darren said...

Part of the reason I became a teacher was so that I wouldn't become a Cat's In The Cradle dad. I started teaching when my son was 1.

EllenK said...

I can understand your anger and somewhat where you are coming from. It's been a fear of mine that with the chicness of being a DINK, we are in danger of a society largely made up of people that have no guidance and no sense. Although scholars have emerged from such sordid circumstances, they are few and far between. But do we prosecute based on the sins of the fathers? Do we take the chance in eliminating the one exception that proves the rules? I would agree, that there are numerous poor examples of parenting in our world and frankly I would love to see reproductive freedom no longer be used as an out for forced sterilization after abuse and/or negligence have been proven whether in utero or after the fact. But it's largely a matter of ignorance and for that I think that we could all do a much better job of educating these kids, IF WE WERE ALLOWED TO. As it is, we must pretend that all of them are college bound, and that is the worst travesty of all because they know we are lying and that lie keeps them from getting the training and help they need.

As for needing fathers, I think this marriageless society that the media has hyped is doing far more harm than many of the targeted dangers of sugar and fastfood. I see too many girls leaping from one guy to another seeking acceptance, I see boys who are holding in anger and not knowing how to carry their emotions. So much has been made of women in our society, but I think we must consider the roles of men as well. We all need fathers. Sad that there are so few.