June 21 parenthood
Happy Father’s Day to all you dads. And a salute to parents everywhere in a world where roles and structures seem to be shifting faster than many of us can cope with, or sometimes, even perceive or understand.
Six weeks with a millennial convinced me it’s not an easy time to be a kid ... or a mom, or a dad.
But, then, I suspect it never has been.
I’ve never forgotten my big sister’s self-proclaimed “two rules of parenthood.”
The first one: “If you get a good one the first time out, don’t tempt fate: quit while you’re ahead.”
As it happened, she and I both heeded that one, and we each have lovely, kind, bright, talented and creative “only” children.
It took many years for it to dawn on me that neither my younger brother Tom nor I would be here had my parents heeded that maxim — but oh, well, I don’t take it personally, Sally.
And it’s clear that her other parenthood rule, untainted by sibling rivalry, is pure and true and dead-on accurate.
“Parenthood never gets easier: it just gets different.”
And that’s true if you’re the 20-something parent of a baby-through-middle-schooler or a 60-something parent and grandparent of kids facing middle-age crises or adolescent angst.
“Making the decision to have a child — it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body,” Elizabeth Stone famously said.
And she nailed it. Time and distance might make the connection seem a little less immediate, sometimes, but the truth is that the parental connection can never really be broken or ignored, as long as some sentience remains.
And, maybe, even beyond that. Way beyond. I’ve heard more than a few tales from those caring for elderly parents with chronic, intractable Alzheimer’s or dementia. They may have gone for months or years with no visible sign of recognition from their mom or dad and then suddenly, often toward the end of life, there is a sometimes fleeting, but unmistakable sign, that acknowledges that most profound of familial bonds.
Somehow, in a tangled part or the brain or, some of us might say, the soul, the name of a beloved son or daughter surfaces and is spoken, just in time to say a final goodbye.
And many of us feel those bonds and messages transcend life on this plain. I have amigos who say they feel the presence of parents who have passed at moments of great joy or great sorrow in their lives. Some go so far as to report physical manifestations or affirmations: white butterflies, perhaps, or their parent’s favorite plants or flowers blooming out of season.
For me, it’s more often a triggered memory. I see an old-fashioned wicker creel and my mind goes back to fly-fishing and casting lessons from dad during countless waterfront weekends together. I hear a bad pun and remember how much my dad enjoyed what he always called “the lowest form of art.”
I think of advice he gave me and try to figure out a way to deliver it more effectively to new generations.
Keep communicating. Even when it seems difficult, futile, even impossible. Kids, spend as much time with your dads as you can manage, and dads, do whatever it takes to spend time with your kids. Find a way, even in times of fractured families, tough economies, long overseas deployments, sickness or hurt feelings.
Nothing is as good as being there, live and in person, in real-time huggable form. But when that’s not possible, get as tech savvy as you’re able and find ways to keep in touch via Skype, phone calls, texting, social media and even old-fashioned cards and letters, which still pack an emotional punch worth fighting to achieve.
And most importantly, say, “I love you.” Even if you feel estranged. Even if you’re not happy with the way the relationship has gone or is going. It’s something that any father, any child, in the best or worst of times, always wants and needs to hear. Love is something that has the miraculous power to change everything.
Happy Father’s Day. Our hearts are with you, dads.