One of the intended consequences I’d assumed would occur on the road to publication of my short story collection, Terms of Engagement: Stories of the Father and Son, is insight into fatherhood that emerges as a result of my outreach to various parenting groups.
Two recent communications suggest to me that first-time fathers, or those with pre-school boys, may be permitting themselves to be consumed with child-rearing’s low hanging fruit.
Last month I emailed a dads’ group representative, saying I’d like to join. I’d be interested in meeting the group’s fathers, and both hearing about and sharing my experiences of fatherhood. Perhaps, I said, my perspective as the father of an adult son (age 33) might be of interest to the group’s members. I received the following reply:
Thanks for reaching out. This isn’t something that I see would appeal to our members who are mostly younger parents and are trying to figure out when they will get their next chance to sleep!
Not long after, I applied and was denied admission to a local parenting group in Park Slope, where I live. In my application, I noted that I was the father of an adult son, and had no grandchildren. Upon review, I received the following:
Thank you for inquiring about membership with Park Slope Parents. We’re super honored that we appeal to you, even at a time when you don’t have younger kids underfoot. It won’t work out to join right now, but if you end up with grandchildren(!) living in the area, please do come back then.
In considering these 0-for-2 denials, it occurs to me that, perhaps these and other parenting groups, who most certainly perform a meaningful service, are a little too pre-occupied with parenting’s low hanging fruit: getting through the day to day. To be sure, the day to day may imply sandbox and other significant lessons learned beyond mundane parental chores. That said, given my experience as the father of an adult son, had I been admitted to one or both groups, I would have suggested to new dads to take a moment when you’re alone, or no one can see your lips moving, and murmur, “father.” Ask, what does that mean? See what you come up with. Murmur, “son.” Wonder, who am I to him? Who is he to me? See what you come up with.
In his book, Under Saturn’s Shadow: The Wounding and Healing of Men, James Hollis cites a “…broad study indicating that only seventeen percent of American men had a positive relationship with their fathers.” In discussing various conundrums that “bedevil the male soul,” he suggests, “each man carries a deep longing for his father…”
The fruits suggested by James Hollis are found, I think, among the higher branches, and they aren’t easily snatched, especially while trying to calm a disgruntled toddler who just doesn’t feel like cooperating for the thousandth time today.
As a father who has been there, and still is (my son is a high functioning, successful adult, yet he remains, my son), I hope that from day one on, all fathers consider, when they can, and as often as they can, what being a dad means to them and their son(s).