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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fathers and Sons

I don't know why, but I love this rather creepy "Photoshopped" image.  The poet said "The child is father to the man," but I don't think this is what he had in mind.
My belief is that a son can't begin to understand his father until he becomes a father, too.  The emotions and reactions to the life-changes that accompany the arrival of a child are hard to comprehend  from the outside looking in.  Many men finally start getting serious when they have a kid. 
As I begin my sixtieth year on this planet and wind up my 33rd year as a parent of kids under 18, I find myself thinking about my own father quite a lot.  My dad was a gentle person in many ways, but he struggled.  He was diagnosed as "manic - depressive" in the 1960's (I always preferred this term to the less precise "bipolar disorder.")  I didn't understand the guy at all, and viewed him as a "negative role model."  Everything he did and everything he was bothered me, so I strived to be the opposite.  He did not have much career success and finally went on disability in his 50's due to his brain disorder - my mother went to work when I was young to relieve the financial strain on the family.  He smoked like a chimney and he was a major league couch potato - my mom is the parent who played catch with me when I was a kid.  He was silent for long stretches and would break out with flashes of white-hot rage at random moments.  He was raised in the Southern United States and was a casual bigot.
He also had a great sense of humor and could be a very charming guy.  He cared about his community and volunteered many hours to improve it.  He was active in local politics and helped several folks with their campaigns.  He served as the parks commissioner in our home town (an unpaid position).  To generate a little extra money, he distributed World's Finest Chocolate bars to schools for their fundraising efforts.  He brought cases of dented, unsalable canned goods home from his job at the warehouse to supplement our sometimes meager food supply. He worked the Dad's Club grill at the school carnival.  He was authentic and engaged at times, and people remembered him.   His funeral was a packed house of people he had touched along his path.
In other words, he fought against his condition and did what he could.
Before I became a father, I had no compassion for my dad.  After three decades of fatherhood, and significant experience with the mental illness of family members, I understand him.  I still don't want to emulate him, but now I finally admire him.

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