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Fathers, Daughters and Sons: Some Thoughts

With Father’s Day still fresh in my mind, and the unexpected death of Tim Russert, I all of a sudden find myself preoccupied with thoughts of my children. I watched Tim Russert on the Today Show at least a couple times a week for as long as I can remember. I didn’t like his style, I loved it. He was one of my favorite journalists and I was really affected by the sudden loss of this engaging personality. Tim Russert’s death spirited me into a state of consciousness that I haven’t yet shaken. If you recall a recent blog of mine where I spoke of mortality, while not interested in going down that road again, some other thoughts that surfaced for me are what I want to share today as well as hopefully get a reaction from you.

Father’s Day is one of those days that help you realize how fortunate you may be to have children. On this day your children may spoil you, somewhat foreshadowing a future when as parents we may be feeble and desiring love and our children may be our saviors in that regard. I am fortunate enough to have three children. From my perspective, all you need is three. Only having two would under cut my joy when they are at their best. More than three would exacerbate my angst when they are not as considerate as I would hope they might be. Russert and his life’s partner Maureen only had one child, their son Luke. I watched Luke talk with Matt Laurer this morning and the majesty of their conversation affected me in so many ways. It was really impressive seeing the fruit of his parents’ labor reflected through the eloquence of their son. I can only imagine and hope (and yes, expect) that my children would represent themselves, their family, and all others invested in them with such class.

Father’s Day, the Russert family’s loss, and the quality of the experience with my children on Father’s Day made me realize that somehow amidst all the focus on dad is an opportunity for Dads to appreciate not only the love and attention they receive, but the “type of” love they get from their children as well as what they give. Both of my daughters lean on me, kiss me often and unexpectedly, and remove my hat to rub my shaved (not bald) head. My son occasionally leans against me, and occasionally will grip my shaved (not bald) head, but doesn’t rub it, at least not lovingly for any length of time. Now, I have never told any of my children that they will endear themselves to dad if they rub his shaved (not bald) head. So why is it that my daughters rub my dome as if they are trying to ascertain their futures, whereas my son rubs my shaved (okay, you get the point by now) head as if to make the statement that he has that level of access to dad if he wants it.

More importantly, when we have conversations with our children on Father’s Day and take them into conversations about being quality people, I wonder how many other fathers take the time to really consider the role we have in shaping our children. My father shaped me greatly by the things he didn’t do, which may be why it is so difficult for me to imagine replicating his parenting style. Conversely, my mother wore both hats for me, which is why she deserves a shout out on both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. While it is obvious that we must provide for our children since they didn’t ask to be here, how often do those provisions transcend food and shelter? What are your stories about how dad (or mom in his absence) shaped, mentored, or challenged you?

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The saying “The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree” was my first thought after reading your blog.

My spouse and I come from very different family values. I was brought up by two loving parents who lived on a small farm and raised nine children. I can remember working long, hard days in the hay fields during the summer. We had a small above ground pool that we used to cool off in after a day in those fields. I can remember racing against Mother Nature trying to get the last load of hay baled and under cover before a big thunderstorm would threaten to arrive. Sunday dinners would consist of an outdoor barbeque with hamburgers and hot dogs on a charcoal grill with numerous salads and refreshments followed by toasted marshmallows after the coals on the grill cooled down. Later we would get together for a game of kickball or softball. When you went to bed at night, you slept well knowing you had a good day with family. The grandchildren still carry on the tradition of playing kickball on Sunday night on the same grass covered yard where I played as a child. My siblings and I still join in the game; sometimes dividing the teams between adults and children. Sometimes we just split the teams up as each family arrives; sometimes we pick captains and choose teams. My parents continue to watch and even videotape the games on occasion. There is much laughter to be heard along with the occasional fight between cousins when a difference of opinion is made in a close call at home plate.

Life was very different for my husband when he grew up. He came from a very abusive, alcoholic, low income home that eventually ended in the separation of his parents. He was raised by a single parent who was mentally unstable. The children fended for themselves, often having to do the grocery shopping and the laundry at a nearby Laundromat by themselves. There were no family gatherings, vacations, or memorable Christmases. There was never a parent sitting on the sidelines or in the bleachers cheering him on during a sporting event, and school functions never had parent representation. Life was tough and many times he was separated from his siblings as the State stepped in. On a brighter side, all the siblings ended up successful in their adulthood.

In our early years of marriage, I can recall conversations with my husband about not duplicating the parenting style that he grew up accustomed to. Even though I’ve had those conversations many times, he still treats Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as just another Sunday. Although the children and I bought him gifts and cards this past Father’s Day, he chose to go fishing on his own while I visited with my side of the family. When the children were little, he always made sure I was honored on Mother’s Day. However, this year it was overlooked, and he never went to visit with his mother. Now that the children are older, he places the responsibility on them to make sure their mother is shown appreciation on that second Sunday in May.

My father was a huge influence in all nine of his children’s upbringing. He taught us the value of hard work as he labored at three jobs in order to pay the bills and keep food on the table. When Father’s Day would come around it was a time for us to show our appreciation with many homemade gifts. Even to this day, he still appreciates a homemade pie or dessert over any store bought gift. Every year he continues to tell us not to buy him anything and to spend it on ourselves. He has always put his family before anything else and always made sure we never went without.

All nine apples that fell off my parents’ tree seemed to have landed underneath the branches in the shaded grass and still have not gone much farther. Not only have all of us raised our own children the way we were raised; instilling values from the lessons we learned from our parents, but we have remained in the same town and most of us live within walking distance to each other. I guess you can say my life growing up with my father could be compared to a Cortland apple; good and sweet!!

J.W. – You may want to be a little more discreet when describing you body to your many bloggers. You might end up with a flood of women knocking on your front door when you least expect it. Just like some women are attracted to men with ponytails, there are many women who love a shaved head and would give anything to give yours a rub given the opportunity!

*** LMM, with eight siblings that apple tree must have had little grass growing beneath it since so many apples were laying about. It definitely wasn't on a hill or any type of an incline. I can't even imagine how pleasurable it must be to have all your children still relatively in the mix with you as you age. At present I spend quite a bit of time dreaming about my children giving me a chance to miss them.

Regarding my head (shaved, not bald), while you are kind, sweet, and quite flattering, all I can think of now is a line of women waiting to rub the dome. Should I consider that a dream or a nightmare? I guess that would depend on many things, like the intensity of the rub, the time of day they are desiring to rub it, and yes, who is in that line. I was in an airport once and a woman that I didn't know approached me and asked me if she could rub my head. I answered... you know what, I'll tell you that story in another blog! *** -- J.W.

Father's Day, for me, is a very special day. Meeting my father less than five years ago might have something to do with that. It's a time when I appreciate his love, which he shows in many ways. I have the opportunity to give this love back, not in equal amounts, seeing as his experience and age makes him more capable of doing this.

I wouldn't be in the educational position I am in now if it weren't for my father. I definitely would not be reading as much as I do or thinking with the freedom that I have. To him, I owe many of the new thoughts I have. Credits will be followed by a footnote...

Some of the best times I have with my Dad are when we have just had an argument and take time to chill for a minute. At first I'm upset, only thinking of how he's upset ME. After my selfish contemplation, I begin to think about how i may have made him feel. I begin to become empathetic and consider different ways I could ask for his forgiveness. When we finally do have that talk, it is uncomfortable and awkward to approach him, yet I know
that after the initial approach we will have an off the charts conversation and become closer. I love my Dad!

*** The love you return to your father that you seem to think is disproportionate probably far outweighs the love he gives to you in his mind. He probably knows that your lack of life experience, which flavors our ability to love, allows you to love him without as broad a context as what he might have available to situate his love for you in. However, which taste better, a great meal in a lavish restaurant for someone not really hungry, or a good meal in a fast food restaurant for someone famished? It is all about the context!!

As far as asking for your father's forgiveness, what a considerate daughter you are. I don't know of too many arguments or disagreements that weren't exacerbated at some point by both parties. I would hope those times you initiate reconciliation with your father he is as gracious and considerate in receiving your apology as he should be in packing one for you before that conversation ends. Now, I won't waste anymore of your time because I know you probably would like to go engage him about something or other. Do the right thing, daddy's girl! *** -- J.W.

Hey JW,

This Father's Day was special for me...a combination of one of the hardest and happiest days of my life.

You noted in your response to my most recent post the I've been absent for a while. The reason...my son had a very serious accident mid-May, and spent nearly a month in Boston, much of the time in Acute Care.

My family went through the whole gamut of emotions. Fear, anger, relief, wonder, love, and love, and love, and love. On a very personal level, I don't know that I could ever put on paper exactly what it's like to see your son hurting in such a way. It's something that I fear has changed me in ways I can't explain.

For now, he's recovering. And he will recover, we pray, fully, over time. But, through that month of uncertainty and worry....through too long a period of time away from my daughter...through wondering when my son would be discharged...through many sleepless nights...I was treated to the best Father's Day gift imaginable. My son was discharged and made the trip home on Father's Day.

That night after all the relatives had left, and both my son and daughter were asleep, I snuck in to his room as I so often do, and I watched him sleep. In his own bed. And for the first time in quite a while, I was happy.

*** Whaler, I feel you my brother, I feel you! I am happy for you and your family that your son is on the mend. More so, I also understand the happiness that you are now experiencing. I tell students all the time that until they have children they will never have an understanding of what it is like to have their well being tied so intimately to our happiness. Like you I know those moments that we sneak into our children's rooms loving them up while they sleep.

I remember my son at 10 months having a virus that had him lose weight from 21 lbs down to 17 lbs. I can't begin to tell you how distraught I was at that time. I had actually advanced to the semifinals of an important tennis tournament and contemplated pulling out of it, but didn't. Instead I attempted to play the match, but was so devoid of emotion/passion that I really didn't give a damn whether a ball went long, hit the net and fell on my side, or was an open court winner against me. After playing one set pretty much fighting off tears, I forfeited the match, went to the hospital, and ended up spending most all that night pretending I was not falling asleep, or sleeping, so that I could stay in my son's room all night. Your story took me back 11 years to that moment. Whew!!!

The change(s) we go through as parents when we experience any type of crisis relative to our children transcend description, since they are so unique to us as individuals. However, the one common denominator I imagine that most of us share is the "get out of jail free" card our children get from us that works for a couple of weeks/months. Then soon enough we are back to wanting to throttle them for letting their visiting "out of town" friend find his own way back to our home in the rain because he fell in mud while our children continue to play with the neighboring kids. If that sounded too poignant it just happened to me a handful of minutes ago and I am currently awaiting my son's return home so I can have a teachable moment with him about responsibility to out of town guests. Does it ever end? Probably not!

Enjoy these moments with your son. Try to not think about those others around the corner. Happy belated Father's Day, my brother! *** --- J.W.

Growing up I was not that close with my father. He worked odd and long hours and my mother's disdain for him (although they are still married and have been since 1981) made it difficult for me to have the kind of relationship with him that I wanted.

My mother spent a lot of time convincing me and my brother that my dad was a bad guy. He is not. As I have gotten older I have realized that I have the power to have whatever type of relationship I want with my father. My younger brother, unfortunately, has not gotten to this point.

The true turning point in my relationship with my father was when I was in college. My father started to burn me CDs of bands and songs he liked (we have the same taste in music). He would send me the CDs with a note about which track reminded him of me.

The first time this happened the song was "California" by Joni Mitchell. Again with "I'll Start With Me" by Alice Peacock, and again with "Life Less Ordinary" by Carbon Leaf. Carbon Leaf is now mine and my father's favorite band. Everytime I've seen them it's been with my dad.

I have realized how much I am like my father and embraced that. This annoys my mother to no end, but it's not her relationship with him that I'm concerned about, it's mine.

I also have a good relationship with my mother, but we work at it. We work very hard at it. With my dad, it happens much more naturally. We just go out to hear a band or have a beer. We find humor in the everyday and are both storytellers. We love to recount past adventures, especially when it's recalling some legendary party or the like.

I like the relationship I have with my dad now and in many ways feel like we are partners in crime. Especially when I'm at my parent's house hanging in the backyard having a beer and my mom yells out the window "are you two out there DRINKING?" Yes, yes mom we are. Maybe sometime you'd like to relax a little and join us.

*** Lindsey, it isn't an easy thing getting past the baggage parents put in front of their children. I have three children and the oldest one and I had to get past baggage not too dissimilar to that placed in your way by su Madre!

Ironically, just like you relative to your father, I believe both of my daughters are more hard wired like me than they are different from me. If that is good or bad I haven't determined yet. Perhaps they will have to let me know what they think as they get older and see how the influence of dad's biology and socialization has served them. But you have given me additional hope that both of these precious people might even love dad more down the road. I think I'll start making those CDs now!!! *** -- J.W.

I recall one night about three years ago my father came into my room sat down and asked me, with all seriousness, what is was I wanted from life. He began by talking about my brother and sister, who were both older than me, and both seemed to be on a fairly obvious path. I was the youngest child and thus my future was the least certain.

I gave him an answer I was and am proud of. It's one I hope he was proud of. I told him, that what I want to do in my life, is better myself.
--
I find it bizarre, if fitting, that often times in social situations, I reflect upon what I just did (or thought about doing) and think, "Could I picture my father doing that?" and when I realize that it is precisely what I picture him doing, I smile inwardly.

*** Brennan, the things that you do that your father may have done differently probably have him smiling wherever it is that he might be. Especially since he would know that while it may be different from how he may have done this or that, since it is all good, you doing it different doesn't necessarily make it better or worse, just different!! *** -- J.W.

This Father's Day was also special to me. Last year at this time my family was just thankful that my father was alive, as he had suffered a heart attack the week before. This served as a kick in the pants for him, to realize that he needed to get his health in order. For the most part he has worked extremely hard to do so, but started to fall off the wagon a bit as he has gone back to old habits.
Thus this Father's Day we were able to remind Pops how it was not long ago he was in a hospital bed recovering from surgery. It was even easier to remind him since I myself am currently recovering from surgery.
The love we share for each other may not be shown in traditional ways but when I fell after having my ACL graft done my father acted in anger, but i knew it was just love that he was so concerned having seen the pain the surgery had put me through. It also provided an excellent opportunity to vent how angry I was that he was not taking care of his health as well.
Hope you had a great Father's Day as well JW!

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