(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, June 14, 2014)
HAMILTON, CANADA ✦ The sad truth is that the world is full of Charlie Gray sort of people who have listened to all the wrong voices and spent entire swaths of the only life they have doing things that haven’t mattered to them in the least, and, in the grand scheme of things, have mattered little to others also.
They’re people like in John Marquand’s novel “Point of No Return,” where Charlie Gray, after years of apple-polishing, is finally named vice-president of that fancy little New York bank, the promotion that finally gives him and his family the security they need.
You get the feeling, though, that what Charlie really needed was to give his life to something where he’d be more fulfilled and alive, where he could then be his family’s support in another way, through simply himself. Man, after all, cannot live on salary and status alone.
These thoughts, from writer Frederick Buechner, are so very worthwhile and especially now, this Father’s Day, in this strange and painful time when so many fathers are everywhere but with their children, a time when plenty of men, apparently, are also suffering a wholesale crisis in identity.
My own thoughts on being a dad started when I was just three, according to my own father, when I’d occasionally announce, “When I grow up, I want to be a farmer and a father.” But farming never came within a country mile and even after I married, well into my 30s, fatherhood was not a station I pursued with any impassioned energy.
Like most men, I found myself wired more as an achiever, an accumulator of accomplishments, a professional writer immersed, in my case, in the vocation of news gathering. Children? I suppose. As long as the little Lilliputians don’t rope down my other goals.
But now well into family-life with three remarkable children, something has happened. Something has changed. While my wife’s profession anchors our home financially – a dynamic that’s feasible for more families these days – I’ve been able to leave the Charlie Grayness of cultural expectations, that fog that says male accomplishment can only be measured in a certain way.
I’ve adjusted my definition of success so I can identify myself without embarrassment as a dad who works from home and with the children.
No, the “Do I ‘work’ or be with the kids?” question is no longer just for women. As another male author put it: “My books are popular now. In 20 years, I don’t know if anyone will remember them. But I know I’ll have a relationship with my kids in 20 years.”
That’s not to say that having a business card that says “The Daily Dad” doesn’t have some unusualness, if not humour.
Even so, it’s a privilege to be a father, and to embrace fatherhood even more as a vocation, to point to the sky and show the children great and marvelous things, to take them to the beach of life and, together with their mom, say, “This is how much you’re each loved, as much as these grains of sand on the seashore.”
This is the truth of it, says Buechner, that we must be careful with our lives because we only get one. The world can’t live it for us. Our decisions are ours only. We don’t need to tell each other this. But, then, maybe some days we do. Because the temptation is to think we have all the time in the world, when, in fact, nobody does.
He’s right. One decision leads to the narrowing of another to another. And then, yes, there often is a point of no return with certain things, important things, like relationships with our children.
My aging father largely raised two kids as a single dad after he, unheard of at that time, literally crossed the Atlantic to win custody of us. He wryly put it to me this way, recently: “We’re all getting older. But you don’t know yet what it means to live in your pine-box years.”
Yes, time is short for anyone. And the children wait and wonder. And, too often, hurt.