Saturday, June 14, 2008

Some thoughts for Father's Day

Last month, our youngest son turned thirty, and began life as a married man on the same day. It was an occasion that brought his mother and me together with all four of the boys for the first time in a long time, and it was largely the boys themselves who made it happen. I call them “boys” because that’s the habit I’ve gotten into over the years, but the occasion brought into focus just how proud I am of the men they have all become, and of the way each has found his own path to that elusive place called “maturity”.

Our words don’t have a lot of impact on how our children grow, but we can’t help teaching by the way we live every day. If we don’t show them how to live, we show them how not to live. Either way, they learn. I suspect most of my teaching fell into the latter category, and their mother helped them figure out the difference, by pointing out the folly of my ways. Each took the lesson in his own stride, and in his own time became a strong, true man. I couldn’t be any prouder if I’d known what I was doing all those years.

We have a big box of old photos…just a fraction of what we took over the years. These are the ones we could afford to have developed (back in the days of film). There are shots of the three oldest in our back yard in Texas, all bleached blond by the sun; Shots of our youngest (the blushing groom) in Truth or Consequences New Mexico, visiting Grandma and Grandpa; shots of the boys and various pets (most prominently Adonis, the ugliest dog that ever followed a kid home from school).

Some of the pictures are more in my head than in a box…like the one of our second-to-oldest…who was born on July 4th…attending the first parade in his honor in a small Texas town; the one of our oldest, perched on Dad’s shoulder as we walked to the corner store for a loaf of bread in the Berkshire winter; the one of our youngest conducting a scientific experiment to see if a wet paper towel would burn in the boys’ room sink; and the one of our next-to-youngest immersing the soluble parts of a carburetor in gasoline to get them good and clean. No photographs, but they’re pretty good pictures.

I carry lots of pictures like that in my head, and when I’m talking to one or the other of my sons on the phone, or across a table, they’ll sometimes come into focus for a minute or so, and somebody will say something like “earth to Dad”, and I’ll be accused of felony doddering.

Now our oldest son is “back East”, as we say out here in the Heartland, keeping his head high, and moving on after the latest in a long series of rough patches. Character comes through in the tough times, and his is shining like a beacon. I honestly doubt I could get through what he has. He’s taller than me, but that’s not why I look up to him.

The Fourth of July “Firecracker” has found his lady, Teri, and is pursuing careers on multiple fronts. He’s taught aerial rescue techniques to Firefighters, led wild cavern expeditions, and is beginning a career as a writer, in addition to his regular job. In many ways, he does the things I always wished I could do. He might be an Indiana Jones fan, but unlike Indy, he got the girl.

Our next-to-youngest is in England now, en route to Arizona. An Air Force “Lifer”, he and his beautiful Rosy have been serving our country all their adult lives. He’s really good with computers, too (he may even be able to help me uninstall my Norton Antivirus), and you have to love a lady who can drive an 18-Wheeler. (Go, Rosy). We’ve missed being physically close to them, but they’re never far from our thoughts, and we’re looking forward to their return to the States.

Our 30-year old “baby” is now a married man. He and his lady, Paula, are starting on solid ground, after taking the time to be sure. That’s the kind of maturity you sure wouldn’t have found in his old Dad at 30. When I was his age, I could take a car engine apart, by gosh. But he can put it back together; and have it actually work. So there yuh go.

My wife’s Dad made the trip to see our youngest get married. He’s 85 now, but that didn’t stop him from wearing out several young ladies on the dance floor. So Dad, happy Father’s Day, and many happy returns.
My wife’s sister and her daughter and sons made it a 3-generation reunion at the nuptials. It will be a long time before we all get together again, but it was great.

There’s another picture in that box I mentioned earlier. It came in the mail one year from my Dad, celebrating a birthday. There in the heat of an El Paso summer was a special birthday cake for his grandsons, made out of snow piled in a birdbath and decorated just for the picture a handful of months earlier back in New England. It delighted the boys, and looking at it now, it makes me think of my own childhood, and some of the pictures from those days that come into my head from time to time. That picture was typical of my Dad, and how he showed his love. He wasn’t a hugger…that was never his way; but my brother and I each have a photo album, put together with cartoon captions and color decorations, construction paper and glue and love that spanned the years of our childhood and young manhood, till we left home and started our own lives.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I miss you.