My Son Let Me Die
My youngest son completed my life the other day. Unexpectedly. Over dinner in a diner. I could now die knowing that the most essential part of my work here is done and done well. Not that I’m done; I have a few more rows to hoe before I’m through. And…I am now am sure that some of my life’s work will live into the next generation.
It’s an amazing experience. One I can’t recommend more. Better, more powerful, more real than any experience I’ve ever had or drug I have ever done. The peakest of experiences. Over normal dinner conversation in a diner.
Dad Joke #1: How do you make holy water? You boil the hell out of it.
A Father’s pride. As men, I believe that’s what we all want. We want to see our Father’s kvell over us. We want to know that we matter to them, that we are able to move them, touch their heart, and see their love.
As a Father, I know that a Father’s pride is one of the most powerful emotions a man can feel; it’s undoubtedly one of the most intense I’ll ever feel. As a Son, the receipt of that pride is one of the most powerfully life-affirming emotions there is (I don’t know that it even has a name, but…it’s better than the best opiate). And the denial of it, or even the fear of its denial, evokes the near panic of our eight-year-olds quivering in front of Dad.
To all of our eight-year-olds: Dad is likely just as bummed as you. He’s facing the fact of having to (maybe) punish you while simultaneously soothing your sorrow at the punishment. It takes incredible strength to face that with equanimity and empathy. Not all of us can do it or do it all the time. And, it makes us incredibly vulnerable to you. All of our eight-year-olds need to know that.
To all of us who have the immense responsibility of being Dads: Especially Dads of younger kids, I wish I could send you a glimpse of that feeling. It’s amazing, wonderful, fulfilling, and inspiring all at once. I would never tell anyone how to parent, and…I know that if someone told me that I would be able to have this feeling, this experience, by being a good Dad (which both of my kids say I was, and I think they are the only two votes that count) would have made the whole thorny job just a bit easier. It would have given me some context — a picture of what all the work was for.
The bad news is that I have no recipe to offer, no sage advice, no illumination of your path forward. Sorry. I can’t tell you how to get there. What I can tell you is that there is a there, there. A magical land where you can see the results of your work in a fine young man or woman. The path there is still tortuous and the future unclear. Perhaps that is where faith comes in; in yourself, in the years of parents that have gone before, and the overall betterment of humankind.
Dad Joke #2: A termite goes into a bar and asks “is the bar tender here?”
The experience of being both Son and Father is richly enlivening. Seeing something that was started by my Dad (although, realistically, probably started generations before), growing in me, and being passed to, adopted by, and grown in my son is such an amazing and joyful perspective, it far exceeds any downside of being 62.
Whatever else I may or may not do in this life, I know I have made my dent in the world and I believe it is a good one.
A soulful, hearty, and all-encompassing Thank You to my Fathers and my Sons. You have all taught me so much.