Saturday, June 15, 2013

Father Knows Best?


Back in the late fifties, early 60's, there was a TV show called Father Knows Best.  The family lived in a small town in a modest middle class home on Mulberry Street or such.  The father was an insurance salesman and mom was a stay at home mom, as were most moms back then.  Each episode had the son and two daughters heading off on some life trek that might prove to be both treacherous and heartbreaking.  And while the father comes to realize his need to intervene to save his children, he must do so from sufficient distance to allow for a life lesson.  And after 24 minutes of "show" and six minutes of commercials, old Dad inevitably comes through...and proves that Father Knows Best.

Were real life only like that.  I've been the father of four and during the child raising years probably hovered more closely to the Homer Simpson model than old Jim Anderson in Father Knows Best.  It probably didn't help that I had three kids before I turned 23 years old.  Hell, at 23 you're just learning to be an adult yourself, much less having the wisdom to guide those who are in most need of your guidance.  Nor was having no father figure myself to emulate I probably relied on those "ideal TV dad models" too much and too often.  If I'd only known then that the actor who played good old Jim Anderson suffered so severely with depression that he contemplated suicide each day of his waking life...or that the Dad in the Brady Bunch was gay, or that no one is as good as "Pa" on Little House On the Prairie, I might have done better as a Dad.

All I can say is I did the best I could possibly do at the time.  I played "horsie" and let them all ride me around the living room as I snorted and bucked to the sound of shrieks and giggles.  There was always time for ice cream cones and TV tray nights and movies that kids liked, even as I pretended to be engrossed with "Nova" or "Frontline".  But we did observe the tradition of having dinner together every single night, sitting at the kitchen table and feeling out how their little lives were unfolding.

There were Grandma visits and trips to Grandma and vacations to the big Island of Hawaii and to Disneyland and beach weekends at Bellows Beach.  Every Thanksgiving and Christmas meant a feast and a giant grab of happiness.  There were weekends at the beach with Huli Huli chicken and swimming in aqua blue waters and naps under huge Banyan trees.  

And there were long, long periods when I wasn't there for them, year long remote tours to Korea or long months in some form of military training.  There were years where part time jobs ate up all of my weekends, days when I should have been with them, days that are now lost forever.  

And like most of God's blessings, little children are not forever.  They grow up and leave you long before they leave home.  They begin stretching their wings and begin the process of leaving, even as you protest their growth...for that growth spurt eventually means their leaving is imminent.

Then they go out on their own, form their own friendships, find the loves of their lives and begin to have families of their own.  After that you and they are on your own.  Whatever you gave them will remain with them; some will carry a part of you throughout their lives, while to others you are no more than a thought on a Father's Day card once a year.

By the time your children have reached middle age, you are more or less a "ghost", occupying a corner of the room at Thanksgiving or Christmas, a "has been", once strong and vibrant and "with it", but now just an old creature who can't relate to the sibling discussions of the latest fad, music icon, or movie marvel.  Some are given so little notice that the most generous personal gesture is no more than the absent minded petting of a favored dog, let in to ease the qualms of extended apathy.

And when you're not occupying their physical space, when you're back home to the distant hovel, they are analyzing the hell out of the latest, maturing, version of "you".  "Does Dad seemed a bit depressed to you?"..."do you think Dad is happy living out there?"  "Did you notice Dad seems to be losing a bit of his hearing?"

And, with each reunion, father and child are measuring each other...the father measuring his children by what they have learned since he last saw them, what they have "gained"...while children seemed to measuring "Dad" on what he might have lost since the last visit.  And that is the greatest frustration.

As with every living creature, even us old Dads are still evolving, gaining more wisdom, finding a balance between "entering the arena of life" and/or choosing not to; happier with a mellowing, with greater time to contemplate and assess his life progress.  While it is true that we lose some of our vigor, some of our taste for the wild side, some of our patience for tolerating silliness, we are never the less still traveling down life's road and happy to still be here, as we hope to still be relevant.

So do Fathers Know Best?  Hell no!  There were times when we hadn't a clue!  Times when we worried about what we'd feed you on the next day, times when we felt bad at the scarcity of "things" we could give you, times we agonized over some child raising mistakes we knew we had made. times when we got out of bed and walked to yours, bent and kissed your cheek because the last word to you before bed time was a harsh one.

Yet, despite all the drama of then and now, despite the distance between us, both mental and physical, despite the shortcomings we assign to each other, we Fathers can be bought off with a hug once or twice a year, an occasional phone call or a random endearing thought expressed at just the right time.  Because we're fathers...diminished somewhat by time and space, but fathers just the same.  And we'll never "know best" but we carry in our hearts the "any age children", the "no age children".  Like a prism we can see you in all of your manifestations, two year old child, or mature and growing adult, and we love all of those images all the same.  Never diminished and never less than you ever were.

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