in which we turn our attention to mothering’s essential compatriot…
it’s become something of a ribbing in this old house. the one who sits across the table from me most nights at dinner, he delights in jiving that he too will pen a deeply intimate account of his side of the domestic story, and he will title it fatherprayer: (subtitle not yet revealed).
it’s a play, of course, on the title of the deeply intimate account of navigating the undulations of mothering that i wrote. the one called motherprayer: lessons in loving. for months now, especially when one lovely reviewer wrote that he barely hovered at the margins (because we have an unspoken pact that i won’t spill ink on his private realm), he’s been itching to tell his version of the tales, my architectural maven whose natural landscape — in the writerly realm — is to size up towers tall or squat, to write with unswerving authority about the public square, whereas my realm is the quieter, tucked-away terrain, the one that unfolds on bed pillows and beside the old cookstove.
while i will leave unpenned his rendition of the homefront (should he ever decide to traipse into the personal), i will encroach only far enough here this morning to offer my own version of a tribute to his indispensable fathering of our two beloved boys — and to consider the role of these men in the care and feeding of our children.
i’m blessed — beyond words — that the father of my children has stuck around all these years. i don’t take that for granted, not when i know and love women for whom that hasn’t happened, through no commission of their own. i watch friends i love shoulder every blessed dilemma and decision, from the kid at college with debilitating strep, to how to scrounge to pay the monthly rent.
the truth is, around here, we both came from houses where forever meant forever. so the occasional rough patch was met not with searching for nearest exit, but knowing we’d stay at it till we found our common ground. i’d be a fool — or big fat liar — if i pretended we’d not hit such skids along the way. it’s been nearly 26 years, after all, and we’re human, and somewhere along the way — in a world where work and home are tenuously balanced at best — there’s bound to be the chapter where one feels pushed aside, while the other shakes his head. or one parent’s idea about the wisest way to steer a kid is pretty much foreign to the other.
but this is not an ode to long-lived marriage (though that’s fertile ground that some day i could be convinced to take on…), so i’ll leave that there, and move on to fathering, and the miracles i’ve witnessed from front row.
the first clue i ever had that the man i married would be quite fine in the fathering department was, i suppose, when i met his own father — the dearest man, a gentle man, a man who could — and did — sit for hours at the Shabbat table (always positioned near the challah, or braided bread, which he’d tear off in little nibbles to punctuate his stories) telling tales, absorbing long answers to well-placed questions. he was a journalist, after all, an editor, and he was fluent in the art of asking and answering questions. the famous tale about my husband’s father is that in the raw first days after he sent his first-born and only son off to college, he was so distraught he whiled away the hours hosing out the garbage cans for days on end, in hopes of keeping his mind off how much he missed the kid. and he sat down and penned a letter — ink on paper — every single day, straight through to thanksgiving of his son’s freshman year, when the kid pulled his father aside, and whispered that maybe he could stop now, the kids in the dorm had caught on to the daily paternal letter-writing. and it was getting a little, um, embarrassing.
the second clue came not too many weeks before our firstborn was born, when, one night before sleep, the father of said child said, out of nowhere, “you’re not gonna recognize me; i’m going to turn to mush.”
and so he did. he cradled that baby as if the whole of the universe rested in his arms, as if one wrong move might crack off a limb or send the little bundle spilling to the floor. every night, when we’d stroll to the el station to greet him after the long day he’d been away, you’d have thought he was welcoming the president of france (or frank lloyd wright, more fittingly) to his company. the poor kid would be smothered in kisses, and questions — even at two-months-old.
if you asked our boys to tick off the top three words that come to mind, they might reel off these: cautious. devoted. old-fashioned in the dearest way.
i might say the same — after all, we’ve all been keeping watch on the very same subject, all three of us from particular vantage points.
i know there are papas aplenty devoted to their children, but in this house, before my very eyes, i’ve watched that word take on layers and layers of truth the likes of which i’d never before witnessed. yes, he’s unswerving when it comes to a few fine truths — no driving on the highway till you’ve proven mastery of side streets and stop signs; no taking cabs home from the airport (at any hour of the day or night) when your papa can just as certainly be waiting for you at the baggage claim — but the core of all of that is how deeply seriously he takes his job as being No. 1 protector of his boys, and all of those he loves.
if my boys have a moral core — oh, they do! — it comes in large measure from their papa, who lives by a code indelibly inscribed, one weighed in the pages of ancient text, one from which there is no dilution. we’ve all witnessed him going to the mat for a principle he believes in (note: see trump v. kamin, a battle spelled out in too-tall, too-showy alphabet letters). but, here in the confines of home sweet home, i’ve watched him insist it’s no big deal to drive 15 hours to watch three minutes of a crew race because no kid should be without cheering squad, even in the B boat of a novice squad for a race they didn’t win. i’ve seen him take a train to a cab to a far-flung soccer field — in a snowstorm, mind you — abiding by the very same 90-percent-of-life-is-showing-up principle.
because he’s a fellow with a predilection for holey T-shirts and shorts a size too big, we rib him fairly endlessly (in part because we take seriously our job to keeper our prize-winner duly humble; but too because he is such a darn good sport, and the basso-profundo of his belly laugh could warm the coldest bone in this old house).
but here’s the undying truth: we know deeply and certainly that he’s a prize beyond all measure. and we’ve two boys who’ve grown up — and grow still — knowing their papa would be there for them upside, downside, no matter what life throws at them. he’s their first and last defense. and no one, nor anything, could get between those boys and the ever-faithful heart of the papa who loves them endlessly and without measure.
happy blessed father’s day, to all who’ve been so blessed.
what lessons in loving did you learn from your papa?
Fabulous as always…..you are such a gift for all of us….thank you
bless you, and thank YOU! xoxox
Barbara – What a beautiful tribute. All the ways you’re husband has blessed you here make me think of the wonder of my own father and stepfather and now my husband, who is an unimpeachable, first rate father in his own right. You and your family are just the most blessed to have a man like this.
“unimpeachable first-rate father”…..so many blessed men and the children who lean upon them. so many for whom a father is achingly missing.
thank you for strolling by, dear charity! i love seeing your smiling face here at the table…..xoxoxo
I wish there was a “love” button to click instead of “like.” Love this story of dear Blair. It’s easy to tell, upon meeting him, that he is the best sort of mushiest heart, which shines through his kind face. This just reinforces everything I imagined of how he is with the boys. No surprises at all, just loads of respect. The two of you make quite a pair of parents, I’ll say.
Lessons from my father: if you’re not five minutes early, you’re late; if you earn the money to pay for something yourself, it is infinitely more valuable than if someone hands it to you; respect your mother; pray. I miss mine so very much, as I know you do yours, both gone much too soon. We are both blessed to be married to wonderful fathers, such a gift. xoxo
ohhhhhhh, honey! i love love love your papa’s lessons. i love that we know them so deeply we can condense their essential lessons into a litany. i love your papa’s lessons, and will muse on them as i get up from this old chair and move through the day.
and, yes, you’re right. blair’s kind face — that smile!!!!! (which both boys most blessedly inherited, thank you God!!!) — is the first and truest key to how blessed is his heart. xoxox
What a lovely tribute… thank you for sharing…
thank YOU for reading. and being here…..
Heart-filling as ever. Lessons from my father? When you are driving along the one-lane, dead-end street, and another car is oncoming, find the spot where the road widens out a skosh, and pass each other there. It takes coordinating with the other driver, even (gasp) meeting their eyes. Wave at the other drivers on your street. On a narrow street, don’t park immediately opposite someone else’s driveway, they might hit your car door. Don’t park diagonally opposite another car on a narrow street, leave room for traveling cars to skirt you both. I’m sure there are life lessons, in there!
funny, as we are in the midst of driving lessons over here, how so many of your papa’s lessons come through the lens of road instruction. i love the lessons. and will ponder what deeper layers of meaning they might hold. i love the word “skosh” — isn’t it funny how we absorb our family’s vernacular. no matter how one-of-a-kind? i’ll let you know if i wind up passing along your papa’s driving lessons to my young driving student…..
I know one of the lessons is that as you travel on your lane, the people you pass are either your neighbors or friends of your neighbors, so always be neighborly! As you travel and park on other lanes, the people around are your friends or neighbors of your friends, so be friendly! Best wishes with the new driver. Our young driver had succumbed to the stress of driving and took a break from practice, so we have restarted the engines to get driving time in before the permit expires. See you on the roads…goin’ slow.
we had the same break in driving, so thanks for mentioning the permit expiration. prompted me to check, and i see it’s two years, so we’ve got a little time to learn these lanes and stops and turns…..drive on!
As always,beautiful. I hope you are well. Returning to the US in two weeks – not sure at all what to expect. Warm regards, Richard
ah, dear richard! pure joy to find you here, and so perfect to find you here on the cusp of american fathering day. if ever there was a father who could poetically and poignantly capture fatherlove, it is you, you whose words took me into the depths of pure heart aching love. your sweet boy is so so blessed. as are you. as are all of us who’ve witnessed — through words — the power of your loving your child….
I adore this. Thank you for sharing this loving portrait of your wonderful Blair. Wishing him a lovely Father’s Day! Much love to your precious family. ❤️xxoo
ahhh, thank you dear dear amy! i know you are married to, and the daughter of, two of the great fathers ever to walk this earth. blessed you. and love…..xoxo