by Jim Flaherty
There are no perfect Fathers. Okay, okay, I apologize. That broad generalization is a personal reflection. And this essay is focused on earthbound 20th century fathers, not Heavenly Fathers. I, among trillions of others, was not a perfect Father. Back then, a long time ago, I was supposedly a key element in the physical upbringing of my children, and hopefully one of the strong foundations of their emotional solidity in their later years. Was I? I remember thinking it was an impossible assignment.
Fathers, remember I’m talking about an earlier period, not now, when both parents have careers, both contribute to the family breadbasket, but back then, as a Father, you had to have a job. So, you kissed your wife and children goodbye—and you went to work. Wow, Mothers really got the short end of the stick. Daddy could go off and follow his dream or climb some kind of success-fueled ladder, and Mommy had it easy—oh yeah?—she had to raise the children, basically alone. And while she was at it, also maintain and manage the home, and of course, there were meals to cook and laundry to wash. And ideally, be the romantic and supportive mate he would cheerfully come home to.
And while there were babies, well, you know, if you ever had any of those remarkable creatures, it was unending. It was like the constancy of caregiving that becomes necessary when your parent or loved one is stricken with dementia or Alzheimer’s—but with love. Not that you loved to change diapers and keep rear ends clean. But it was unending. And then, glory be, they went to school, and Mom had a break. A few hours without someone needing. But wait, this is supposed to be about Fathers. George Herbert, a 17th Century English poet, said, “One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.” A nice thought, if true.
All right, Dad went off to work. WFH (Work From Home if you don’t understand all the initial abbreviations that seem to clutter very email) didn’t exist in that era. Depending on what Dad did and where you lived, hopefully he got home in time to be part of his children’s lives. I remember being very conscious of “timing and parenting.” Besides my terminal need to be On Time or Early (even now as an Elder Elder it’s built into me), I figured if I went to work early enough, I could take an early enough train (we had to commute living in a metropolitan area) to be home and be a functioning Father. You know—family dinner, and help bathe babies, and (a good memory) rocking and singing to a warm, clean, pajama clad child.
I remember in those early years there was a nice family across from us, and the Dad commuted to work, but never was there in the evening. I wondered if their children even knew what he looked like. I didn’t want to be an invisible Father, how inadequate I may have been.
But then life changes. Marriages often dissolve or drift into a state of unrelenting monotony, which might be as bad as total separation. And then what? How do you still try to hold onto your title of Father? I wondered if my own daughters didn’t have it easier during their teenage years to not have their more conservative, more controlling parent on hand as a daily challenge? They do get a little older. It was easier for all of us during their college years.
Hey, but then it’s not over. They’re educated, they get married, whether you think they’ve chosen someone worth a lifetime or not—they suddenly are not your babies anymore—they’re part of a couple—and good God, they’re having children—do they have any idea of what demands will be made on them? You laugh and think, Good, now it’s their turn to realize all that you put up with. But you don’t really think that. You still suffer their highs and lows. Maybe more than when they were babies. Now, their hurts are pains you feel. Their illness gives you fever. Their unhappiness weighs you down. You realize, maybe more than ever, you are still a Father.
I can honestly say, now, at almost 87 years of age, that although I’m sorry to say I’ve never been a doting Grandfather, I am still very much a Father. Those little girls, now 62 and 60, are still the children I always wanted. They exist because that beautiful girl I married also wanted children. Has every moment been magical? No, but those moments intertwined with a most unboring life, give me a sense of having lived a whole life. For me—and I don’t insist that every man must share this feeling, being a Father, hopefully loved, is the most important title I’ve ever cherished.
Those are my thoughts today. All best, Jim. Daddy to one daughter. Father to the other. Aren’t I lucky. Happy Father’s Day, Guys (and thanks to the girls who made us Dads).
The author of today’s feature is James Flaherty, best known in the area as the founder and original innkeeper of Troutbeck, Country inn and executive retreat in Amenia, NY. Jim is also an author, his latest book: DEAR OLD FRIENDS: Stay Young, Stop thinking Old, and Love Your Life Every Day, is available on Amazon.