Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Revisiting: Reflections on Fatherhood

Revisiting long-ago posts from the Bloggernacle, some reflections on fatherhood...

The Divine decree has always been informed by a certain special relationship that the Sons of God share with their Father in Heaven.  Fathers and sons in Zion are a typical reflection of this relationship.

What a perfect provocation for a personal tirade!
 …how having children has changed them...
Indications of how children changed fathers are always there, and are usually just as obvious as the signs of the motherhood dynamic. Women generally cannot see them, or do not care to acknowledge them.

I speak as a divorced, former father. Because of my own cynicism I find it doubtful that women are really interested in fatherhood stories at all. I suspect that they really just want fathers to tell motherhood stories.

In my experience, men have far less of a proprietary sense with regard to children. To a mother, her children are status objects very much like property. Our social and legal system ratify this proprietary interest. Even among church members we hear of divorced familes, “The children follow the mother”. (Whatever they think that means.)
…how they juggle the demands of working...
(Laughing…)  Amazingly, this is one the mothers seldom comprehend, not even “single” mothers working full time. For fathers, children and families are the demands of working. As a former father and single man I don’t feel the same obligation to perform and compete at work or anywhere else. The family is the strongest motivating force for fathers.

Working is not a juggling act. It is a crushing, overpowering everpresent insatiable demand that we impose upon ourselves, through endless reinforcements and social conditioning.
…nurturing their family...
Nurturing doesn’t really belong on the fatherhood list, does it? Since the term is basically synoymous with motherhood, it doesn’t apply.

I’m not just cynical about this observation. Motherhood has its own set of expectations that constitute a holistic definition. Why should the terms of fatherhood be forced into the same definition?
…and maintaining their sanity...
Again, this is a motherhood cliche. Too many mothers resort to this kind of gratuitous self-aggrandizing hyperbole — “Oh, you should congratulate me, I survived another day with the kids (and my Prozac)!

When they were part of my stewardship I never asked for or wanted a medal for providing for the children. Even after our relationship was legally terminated I continued to to my best to support them, though they ceased to acknowledge me as a father. Fathers don’t require special recognition just for doing their routinely accepted duties. That seems to be a singular distinguishing factor.

Imagine me writing a suggestion that to celebrate mothers’s day, women should try to relate to their children more like a man.

  • Take your children into the forest for a day, teaching them to run a chainsaw and heft a double-bit axe, and bring home five cords of firewood.
  •  Train your children to understand and respect automobiles by rebuilding an engine, with the stipulation that they must walk or find rides everywhere until the job is finished.
  • Help your kids understand the meaning and value of life by teaching them how to slaughter a domestic animal that they have raised, and preparing it for food for the family.
  • Provide opportunities for temporary employment for your children that involve high hazards and routine risk of serious personal injury. Educate them in how to deal safely with such risk. Teach them to endure temporary physical discomfort and pain without complaining. Help them understand that preparing meals and doing laundry are not comparable burdens.

Do these qualify as “nurturing”? They would for me. These are some of the kinds of things I could have taught my former children, things that they will likely never learn from their mother.

June 14, 2006 at 9:52 am
...that is exactly the kind of nurturing my dad gave me. I love him for it...
Mine too. It was always dad’s job to go camping with us, to take us to work with him, to bring us home dirty and tired and a little bit bruised and bloody from time to time.

My dad served in the bishopric in our ward during most of the time I was growing up. He was always busy. But I don’t think he shortchanged us on time spent.

This is what I mourn the most for my lost children. They have a “nurturing” mother who decided that by her standard their father was not making a positive contribution. So she decided to change the arrangement. And she had every resource of the law and the church to support her. As well as my continuing mandatory financial “obligations”.

It has been more than ten years, and I have seen or heard nothing from my children since then. But I suppose they are “nurtured”.

Memorable moments of early fatherhood.

Mental image of firstborn son Jim. (He used to share my name. I don’t know what he calls himself today.)

At the instant of birthing, he emerged with skin colored bright blue. Shocked, unexpected, wondering what went wrong. The first breath, feeble cries, and quickly turning healthy pink. The most incredibly full and dark mane of thick black baby hair running halfway down his back.

Weeping with joy, filled with the most intensely overwhelming emotional flood.

A photo of son Jim, just a toddler. In an unsupervised moment, him standing in the unfinished basement room, the current family project. Beaming brightly, his little hands and arms raised high, coated an inch thick up to the elbows with heavy yellow sheet rock mud.

Hustles off to the shower.

A handful of boys at play in the sandbox. Son Robert, five or six years old. Shouting, “By the Power of Greyskull!!!”. Unsheathes a long butcher knife from hiding down the back of his t-shirt, and strikes a pose emulating the tv hero He-Man, brandishing the knife as his invincible weapon, threatening his foes in the sandbox.

Frantic parental intervention.

Another vignette of Robert, several years older. Unaware that he is being observed, standing on the sidewalk contemplating as neighbors drive by. He finds a big rock and launches it at Randy Jones passing in his truck. Strikes a bullseye. Randy stops abruptly with a squeal of tires. Looking at me...
Better do somethin’ ’bout that, slick.
Oh yeah, I will. 

Randy continues on. Robert takes to his heels, dad following into the house at a slightly more leisurely pace.

Intensive father/son discussion on why we don’t throw rocks at cars.

A landscape moment. Striving to make the desert blossom. Mother and children huddled around the front porch, watching in shock as dad wrestles with the ditch-witch that won’t. Frustrated and enraged beyond control, temper long-lost, cursing and swearing a blue streak.

At a later sandbox session, father overhears the interplay where one of the children announces that his name is “Dammit”.

Sincere father/son discussion about how we sometimes say things that we know we shouldn’t.

Son Thomas, eleven, suffers a serious leg fracture at the roller-skating party. Shocked at such an unexpected turn, the father secretly weeps tears of fear and anguish. 
Father in Heaven, please, let the pain and suffering come to me — please spare my children! 
 Thomas spends miserable months in wheelchair and full cast...

What a fragile thing our lives really are.

Son Joseph, the most sensitive of the boys. He is so enthralled with Nintendo and Super Mario Brothers that he has a prolonged tantrum when his games are interrupted.

Some soul-searching for an answer. The game is retired.

Dad goes to summer camp with the older boys. Along the hiking trail, son Robert is separated from the party for a brief time. Searching, praying, franticly looking for some clue that he might have passed this way, through the thousands of acres of wilderness surrounding. Shortly thereafter, as he is found...
I couldn’t find you guys anywhere!
 Trying not to show the tears of relief and gratitude.

Dad and son wrap their arms around each other, for a brief instant understanding and acknowledging everything that it means to be dad and son.

Discussions about what to do when we are lost.

Another short picture of the integral father/child bond of long ago…
Son Joseph, retired to his bed early, suffering from flu, feverish. The rest of the family is eating dinner together.

Some strange signal from the children’s room alerts that something is wrong.
Distress!  Help!
Urgent message, unuttered, yet clearly received.

Hastening into the room. The child’s body is distended and racked with convulsions. His skin is dusky, ashen gray — impossible. No living person can turn that color. Shock condensed into one horrified frozen moment.

Suddenly comprehending the need to act, a frantic summons issues for ambulance and paramedics. Confusion over what to do, not knowing what might be wrong.

Then, a few quiet seconds, like the eye of the hurricane passing over.

Father gently takes the infant son in his arms. He quietly pronounces a priesthood blessing.

Moments later, the paramedics arrive and the calm is broken. Amid noise and haste, the child was carried away to the hospital.

Tense hours followed. Doctors performed diagnostics and made recommendations.

But everything turned out okay. And the father knew, assured from the moment of the blessing, that it would be so.

And I believe that somehow, though he was unconscious, the son knew it as well.

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