Friday, October 13, 2006

Thoughts on Fatherhood


This week marked the anniversary of my father's death. It was Thanksgiving weekend (Canadian Thanksgiving) in 1994. I remember that none of us kids (there are six of us) had made plans for a large family gathering. All of us had our own families to deal with. But, surprisingly, my Dad took it on himself to set something up. He told us that he was taking care of the meal, just be there. So, Thanksgiving dinner was Kentucky Fried Chicken. As usual, there was a lot of fun around the family table, with more than twenty of us cracking jokes and remembering years past. Also as usual, Dad went in and fell asleep in his chair.

Later that night I got a call that Dad had been taken into hospital with abdominal pains. By the time he had been diagnosed and transferred to Toronto for surgery by air ambulance, his heart had been weakened too much to pull through. He died of an aortic aneurysm at only 62.

I remember the ache I felt when I realized that he was gone and I never got a chance to say goodbye. As they were loading him in the air ambulance, I didn't want to think that he might not make it and I just told him to "hold on." I'd love to have that moment back. I'd like to be able to tell him what he meant to me and how much of a difference it made knowing that I had a father who loved me and was there for me.

My father was an immigrant from Holland who grew up there during the Nazi occupation of World War II. The things he experienced left an impact on him, but he didn't often speak of it. He had to grow up too fast, being the oldest child in a large family. His father loved him, but didn't verbalize it, and neither did he. I really don't think he knew how to say what was in his heart, as much as he wanted to.

I did watch him with his grand-children, though. It was almost like he had another shot at it, and he regularly told them how much he loved them. I was envious. Looking back now, as I'm a little older and hopefully smarter, I think I can understand him better. And I still miss him a great deal.

Last night I was watching a rerun of "8 Simple Rules." It was the episode after John Ritter, the actor who played the father, had passed away suddenly. You could tell that there wasn't much acting involved as the cast was still grieving themselves. I was shocked at the raw emotion I felt and how I was immediately brought back in my mind to that day twelve years ago when it was me grieving. And I was grieving all over again.

It made me realize just how important our fathers are to us. Many have grown up in homes without fathers, but it still doesn't diminish their importance, it simply leaves a void. So many of the wounds of people whom I encounter stem from a broken or poor relationship with their father.

I know that I feel the weight of this responsibility in trying to raise my own three sons. I want to do all of those things that good fathers should do, and yet I'm rarely sure of what, exactly, that means. When a group of men at a father's seminar were asked to write a one-sentence description of their feeling as fathers, one of them put it this way: "I feel like a dachsund dog running in deep snow."

I think I know that feeling; yet the struggle is worth it. I know my boys need me, and they need me to be the very best that I can be, because every boy wants to be proud of his dad. So when I don't know what to do, I'll ask somebody who does. When I'm faced with something too big for me, I'll pray that God will help me. I want to do my best because I know there's a lot at stake.

Let me close with a story. During the winter of 1993, workers at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Ohio, made a discovery. While renovating part of the building, they found a picture that had been hidden in a crevice under a display case. The man in the picture had a bat resting on his shoulder; he's wearing a uniform with the words "Sinclair Oil" printed across his chest; he looks gentle and friendly.

Stapled to the picture is a note, scribbled in pen. It said: "You were never too tired to play ball. On your days off, you helped build the Little League Field. You always came to watch me play. You were a Hall of Fame Dad. I wish I could share this moment with you. Your Son, Pete." Nice. I miss you, Dad.
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