Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

I know I promised to review Jersey Gods this week, but it's Father's Day today, so I'm pushing it back another week. I'd feel bad, but there's no more issues to buy now anyway, so I'm not costing the creators anything by my procrastination (presuming a positive review that'll send the masses out to buy copies, of course).

Father's Day is something of a mixed emotions holiday for me, ranging from maudlin to apathy. The apathy is the obvious that it's just a Hallmark holiday. For me, like all holidays that involve gifts for me, it boils down to me spending money on myself because I'm the only income provider in the household, which detracts a bit from the whole gift receiving business. That I'm solicited for gift ideas makes it all the more so that I'm just buying something for myself. Not that it's easy for my wife or kids to get me something. I don't have a lot of wants, and what I do have is in the realm of comics. None of them are into comics (except Transformers for my son), so they don't talk to me about comics or know what I'd like to have.

But all that's just the veneer of Father's Day. If I think about it, there's more substance and the day has meaning. The duality of it is my role as son and my role as father, both of which are imbued with significance. My relationship with my father, as an evolving interaction, ended in August 1992 when he died suddenly of a heart attack caused by a congenitally enlarged heart. Most fortunately, there was no baggage, no unresolved issues between us when he died. I loved my father very much, and he loved me.

I was 25 when he died; a recent law school graduate with crappy employment prospects (a prior recession, for those who don't recall). I was also just married with a bride still in law school herself. I had reached adulthood, and adult responsibilities. It was not easy times, and his death didn't make it any easier, emotionally. Financially, it actually helped because of a life insurance policy and his pension, split between me and my brother. However, in addition to missing him, I was left with some guilt because of the pecuniary benefit. But I knew he'd also have done whatever he could to help if he was alive, so that was ameliorative, as was the fact that by the time he died we were close friends as well as father and son.

Not that he was a buddy sort of parent when I was growing up. He was Dad, the authority figure, first and foremost. Though my parents were liberals (Mom still is), they were not ones to spare the rod. Nor were they opposed to corporal punishment by other authority figures, as exemplified by the time an assistant principal in elementary school pulled me up by my hair. Probably had something to do with them both being educators themselves and knowing the smart ass kids such as myself.

His lessons weren't all of the "follow my lead" sort, either. Some were example as antithesis. His legendary temper helped me learn to control my own, not wanting to be that sort of source of fear to my own wife and kids. Not that I don't get angry or loud. I just don't do the sudden explosions or bursts without explanation to the subject of the anger. He also had an affair in the mid '70s and split from Mom altogether in '82, again after an affair. It's a central element of my marriage not to repeat those steps. Not that my marriage might not end some day. Who knows? As always, it's a work in progress.

So my view of my father has been and remains one of love and admiration, but not putting him on a pedestal of perfection.

With my own kids I try to inhabit the same role my father played for me, in terms of providing guidance of how to make decisions ethically and intelligently. Their mother takes them to church, but I'm trying to teach them to reach smart decisions from a rational basis rather than because of the threat of some omniscient, omnimpotent force either laying laying down the hammer or smothering in some existential love. Human law and ethics is based on decisions as to what's good for individuals and societies, whether we're willing to admit it or not. Cloaking those decisions in some vague religious patina doesn't abjure us from our roles in those decisions.

But I digress. What has been somewhat unexpected about being a father is what I've learned from my kids. Not the obvious that having kids changes your life. I knew going in that having kids would mean more responsibilities, more expenses, and, hopefully, more love. Both of my kids were planned pregnancies, leapt in with eyes open. My kids are now 9 and 11, and it's the things I'm learning from them that are a surprising joy (to paraphrase C.S. Lewis).

I'd guess it's how it was with my father watching me and my brother grow up, but it's wonderful to see them become their own people. My son's interest in all things Mario, Transformers, and the like is no different from millions of other American boys (and some girls), but seeing how he is a quick wit with handwriting at least as terrible as my own, as well as someone who is good at rolling with changing circumstances, is fun and instructive. My daughter's love of dance, her loyal cadre of friends, her artistic flares, her fashionista propensities, and her outright high intelligence across a broad spectrum of topics is reaching a more often infuriating stage, being the middle school kid, but it's still fun when I take a step back and recall my own youth. As a result of their development as people, and my liking them as people, my own interests have been widened, so that I know more about some things that I might otherwise.

Parenthood is often portrayed as a burden, an interruption in our own development as individuals, but a parent who's willing to see the give and take with the child(ren) is a parent who'll realize that children are just another part of the parent's own individual development, not an impediment to it. We are none of us in a vacuum of our own selves in life. With or without children we'll interact with others in our lives. Taking the chance to be both an influence and responsible in someone's development is one of the burdens and joys of being a parent. Life: it's not for the squeamish.

As a bonus, below is a poem by my 11 year old. It doesn't have anything to do with Father's Day but for my pride and joy in her accomplishment.

I Am From...

I am from the back seat
I am from the greenest patch of grass
I am from the boiling water as the bubbles boil up
I am from the beach of North Carolina
I am from the glistening sun,
and the frosty snow shining from the sun on my snow hill I built
I am from the tan desk in my classroom
I am from the big Hershey kiss
and the zooming roller coaster going by
I am from the big blue house with all the plants
I am from that wonderful cat of
my neighbors', Puss'n'boots, in the little red wagon
I am from the snow tunnel,
in the jewel looking flakes
I am from that average dance studio,
that I mentioned when I was 2 years old and still know now
I am from the green field, kicking the ball back and forth
I am from the 2 big cherry blossom trees that would take your breath away;
breathtaking magical little garden
I am from the little church, the cross above the pastor giving the sermon,
with the purple scarf upon it
I am from the big family,
4th of July is always a blast,
stuffing my face with deviled eggs,
then my neighbors nearly blowing their hands off, cheap fireworks
I am from the greasy fried chicken,
the best homemade chicken that I have ever tasted
I am from the petals falling,
the snow shining like a star,
and the bluest water in the Bahamas,
the Owings Mills mall that keeps shutting down
I am from - many places


  1. Wonderful Thomm. Thanks for sharing. I really liked the "not for the squeamish" concluding paragraph. My wife especially gets some unspoken (sometimes spoken) comments about when is she going to get back to focusing on just her life, rather than being a stay-at-home Mom. Being parents IS our life now and I'll tell you it's much more important than my "day job" in terms of a significant contribution to society.

    My oldest just graduated from 8th grade this past Friday and she sang a part of a solo in Treble Choir ("For Good") that just blew me away. She's a straight A student who has always seemed mature for her age, but is continuing to grow by leaps and bounds. She had to write an epic poem for school about her middle school years, which I read after the ceremony. Awesome doesn't even begin to describe it. It was a little disconcerting (and humbling) to realize that ALL my children will surpass me in just about every area (art, writing, music, ministry, etc.), but it also makes me very proud.

    I can totally relate to your gift section, but with our limited budget I ALWAYS look forward to getting something special from my family and I LOVE homemade cards. One year I turned the holiday on it's head and gave each of my kids gifts instead, since I wouldn't be a father without them and I loved them so much.

    I won't digress about your digression -- that can be a conversation for another day. :)

    Happy Father's Day! (You too, Jim and Lee).

  2. Muchas gracias, amigos.

    Hope you each had a good Father's Day.