Ever since I first started to understand what it meant to BE a father, I have wanted to be one. My own father was a particularly good role model in most aspects of parenting, and while he ruled over our ultimate accumulation of eight children in our family with a fairly strict hand by today’s standards, in spite of all our trials and tribulations of growing up under his absolute, black and white rules, I never lost my desire to one day BE the father of a similarly large brood. Most of my memories from childhood experiences with my father have a thread of discipline and punishment within them somewhere, but thankfully, there were also a number of them that involved happy times and loving attention, even when it wasn’t directed toward me. In the early days, I remember wanting to grow up quickly, in order to be the one with the power to direct my own life, and during my teen years, my memories consist mostly of just wanting to get away from all the conflicts which inevitably occur as children pass through adolescence. Once I set out on my own independent life, I knew that I was going to be a father, and I had convinced myself that I was definitely going to do it better than my Dad.
The photo at the top of this posting shows all six of my children when they were all small. We had recently moved in to a townhouse that finally had enough room for all of us, and it was joyful beyond anything I ever could have imagined. The oldest was ten years old in the photo and the youngest was approaching one year old. The routines were all brand new, and the dynamics within the family group were only just starting to take hold, but it had finally happened for me to share responsibility for raising a clan of kids. Reflecting as I do when Father’s Day comes around, it seems to me that I cannot remember another time in my life when I was happier than I was when the picture was taken. We had our own trials, and providing for such a large group was never particularly easy, but through the years, as I watched each of my beloved children coming into consciousness in the world, I was learning what it meant to POSSESS consciousness, as I was learning how to be a Dad. There may not be a better environment for learning about consciousness, than to witness its development over and over again as the loving father to a number of children.
Now that my children are all grown up, it is finally possible to look back over a generation between my own childhood, and that of my children. Several of them have produced grandchildren already, and being a grandfather, while profoundly different in important ways, in my case, has provided some of the same types of experiences again, and it has been quite a journey so far. Father’s Day is always an interesting day each year, and this past year provided some wonderful experiences with both generations. When you have this many children, getting them all together in the same place at the same time is an enormous challenge, and each attempt inevitably results in several of the siblings being either unavailable or just otherwise occupied. Over the years, I have come to understand a little better and to accept this aspect of our family dynamic, and this year, even though it was not all at the same time, I managed to spend time with each of my children as a Dad and continue to enjoy whatever opportunity presents itself, regardless if it takes place on a particular day. Being a Dad provides some of the most difficult challenges imaginable, but now that I can look back on so many years of working through it all with my children, when one of them shares an important insight, it can be window into more than just the emotional sentimentality of a particular day.
My second youngest daughter, now a responsible and hard working adult, stopped over to visit with me on Monday night after work, and we talked long into the night. As is sometimes the case with the younger children in a large family, you end up wondering what all the fuss is about with the older kids, and in spite of my best efforts to balance all of my attention between each of the children equitably, you end up being only marginally successful in THEIR eyes as young people. Our conversation drifted into some of the stories and memories of those early days, which contained some recollections of my parenting skills that were not especially flattering to me from those days. With the benefit of the passing years, however, as a grown woman, my daughter now could express how she felt then, balanced by her realization today, and our experiences were filled in by our now much greater understanding of the challenges we both faced. Her photo above is one of my absolute favorites, and our conversation brought us closer together in ways unimaginable when the photo was taken. It prompted me, as we clinked our glasses together to say, “Best Father’s Day, ever!”
Each year, as my daughter grew from that wide-eyed, trusting, and loving child, Father’s Day wasn’t always a mutual celebration in the truest sense of the word, but as her consciousness evolved from those early days into her current adult version, she came to appreciate our relationship and gain in perspective as the years passed. In much the same way, as my original memories of turning the corner of the street where I grew up had been replaced by my familiarity with the street where I live now, I couldn’t say exactly when the change took place, it took quite a while to become lodged in my mind and part of my daily waking consciousness.
Our capacity to feel empathy with all living creatures, and with others of our species, particularly those with whom we have some sort of emotional relationship, in my mind, infers a profound connection between us that is mostly FELT. This may make the connection difficult to quantify, but no less substantial than any other human characteristic with more obvious substance like family resemblance, friendship, or partnership. Pursuing the nature of our connection to each other as living beings compels me with the same fervor with which I am compelled to breathe. It is as natural to me to write about it as it is to love my children, and to survive. As with most qualities of the examined life, they are sometimes at odds with each other, while being simultaneously and unavoidably essential to life.