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Today's FindingHome story focuses upon Fatherhood, perhaps the most misunderstood role anyone ever plays. I have wrestled with its implications since my first Father's Day, forty years ago today. I am growing to acknowledge that the meaning of Fatherhood might be found in how one actually performs in the role, not in how well one echos their prepared lines or finds his markings on the stage, but in how he engages. The expectations almost guarantee a belly flop or few, and most fathers more than fulfill this crucial part of their role.

That tie, hung in homage around the patriarch's neck this day, might easily imply that he should by all rights be hung high for his many complicities. He might not so easily absolve himself of all he did and all he failed to do. Dad's are duffuses, and absent this deep and appreciative acknowledgement, I believe that any Father's Day celebration falls well short of its potential, perhaps of its obligation. Fatherhood: no one could live or fully justify all those years of therapy without it. Happy, anyway...

"I was and will continue to be one duffus of a dad."

I think of Fatherhood as a second chance at childhood. Not a time of privilege, but of sacred obligation raised to the level of delight. The boogiemen seem bigger, the responsibilities more daunting, but it represents the next-to-last opportunity to experience innocence again. To see the world through naive eyes. To experience so much for the very first time. To break purposeful cadence and move at a much less than leisurely pace. To accept grace. To stare life directly into a face without blinking … much. (Made you blink! Made you blink!)

It brings a time of focus far away from self, an opportunity to fade into the far background in favor of those who really matter.
A time of sacrifice, yes, but a time where one's druthers fade into near insignificance. The spotlight's off me, me, me, and the now, now, now and onto those who represent the future. Former accolades fade. Future accomplishments dim. The moment, manifested in a seemingly endless stream of moments, becomes most prominent. A father ceases seeking a purpose in favor of becoming an influence. Personal preference turns moot. Offspring become everything, well, that and the Saturday morning excursion to the library.

The selflessness wears thin. The sacrifices sometimes seem unappreciated. The divorce doesn't do anyone in, though it feels every bit as though it might. It's not right that the second wife can't muster a moment of empathy for anyone, especially the kids, and that dad must meet with his progeny in public places to protect them from her id. He comes to calling himself Uncle Dad, sometimes renting a hotel room to affect an overnight. Court-ordered child support renders the care no less loving. He's gone more than there and leaves much more often than he ever comes back. He grieves for more innocent times every day of his new life, but he remains, even there, imbedded in deepest, sometimes even darkest, Fatherhood.

My son now teaches me the fine art of Fatherhood. Him, reliving his childhood where I fear his father taught him more what not to do than how to become the father he became. I believe that Fatherhood is more instinct than skill, an unlearnable and unteachable role that each must invent as their spirit moves them and as conditions demand. The learning never stops and sometimes seems to hardly stick. Kids become a permanent intrusion into what might have otherwise become mere self-obsession. Fathers find themselves by giving themselves, repaid by the curious benefits of vicariously reliving their own childhood for a time.

Much of the best rubs off on those kids if only through proximity, but offspring aren't empty vessels. They're picky and choosy and perfectly capable of rejecting as unworkable whatever of what they witness. They won't become Mini-Mes so much as capable of teaching themselves, for while Fatherhood brings the expectation that dad should know, the very practice of making it up as he went along taught more than all the attempts at passing forward what he thought he knew so well.

Fatherhood is a condition of forced contrition, guaranteed to generate remorse. Forget the Forgive Me Fathers, forgive me son and daughter for all I failed to impart and for all I too successfully imposed. I partially blew my second chance at childhood, too. The crying myself to sleep ended up being how some of my second childhood manifested this time. Nobody gets a perfect childhood, first or second, simply the one they receive. And nobody ever receives anything like a perfect Fatherhood, whatever that even means. Perfection could never have been the point. Preparation would have been preferable if only it had been in any way possible. I was and will continue to be one duffus of a dad. If I had the ability to do it all over again, I would, and not only so that I could screw it up differently the second time, though I most certainly would. That's Fatherhood for you!

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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