Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Father's Day Thoughts, 2008

As Father’s Day nears, I realize I truly celebrate fatherhood every day of the year.

I’ve always been a son, and have had to redefine that role as I moved from toddler status, to young boy, to adolescent, to early manhood, and then through the various stages of adulthood. Defining that role and that relationship, and feeling comfortable in that role has been one of the themes of my life.

I don’t think I really understood the role of the son and how my father influenced me until after he died. Once I lost the daily, or at least periodic interaction with him, as I was growing up, did I fully appreciate what he meant to me and how we interacted.

He died when I was almost twenty, and I was just starting to figure out the “college years” of my life, and to find my own adult identity. I’m grateful we were finally able to express our love for each other, out loud, just before he died. Just saying those words was healing and fulfilling.

Later on in life, I became a husband and, at the same time, a stepfather. Instant family. But, not so instant. It was a process and a lot of growing occurred, for all of us. It was, rather, an evolution, and a growing into a role, a relationship. I felt I grew more than my new son, but it was a good time for all of us. We came to love each other, and that love deepened. We were able to be free enough with each other to be able to truly respect each other, and to help each other grow in that relationship.

After my stepson left home for college and his own adult life, I realized I truly loved the role of father, and I found myself acting as a father in various capacities with nephews and with other young people. My wife and I became foster parents for a few years, and my fatherhood talents were again stretched and expanded, as those kids brought new and sometimes seemingly unsolvable issues into our lives.

I learned that some kids have really tough lives, and childhood can be really ugly for some people. And, sometimes, a kind adult in a parental role can make a big difference to someone who has always equated parenting with violence and fear and self destruction.

When I was still in college, my mother remarried, and as my new stepfather had been an uncle by marriage, he wasn’t a stranger. Yet, he being a stepfather to me, the college kid, was a new role for both of us, and we both had to redefine and stretch our relationship.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been both a stepson and a stepfather, and in that blend, good things have happened. I’ve grown a lot, and I’ve come to understand a lot. Now, with both my dad and my stepfather gone, and my stepson living in another state, married, and a homeowner, and working on his career, I have come to again appreciate the changes in life, and the cycles we all go through, as we move through life.

Part of me is still a kid, part of me is still the sassy, independent and challenging young adult, and part of me is the gray-haired patriarch, offering wisdom and sage advice, and trying to be a leader, an elder.

And in that mix, I find joy and contentment, and a feeling of satisfaction. Oh, some things I’ve done I look back on and feel I should have done some things differently. And, other events I look back on with pride and a sense of self satisfaction. I can’t change what has been done, but I really don’t regret most of what I’ve done as a son, a step son, a step father, and a foster dad. Now, age has given me more insight and more wisdom. Yet, I’m not going to cry over spilt milk and things not done that should have been done and things not done that should have been done. After all, that’s life.

And, all in all, what is most important in all of this is that we tell the people in our families that we really do love them and that we really do care for them, and that we want them to be happy, and to be gracious in dealing with all the challenges of life. Life can be lonely, but if we know that our family cares for us, and loves us for all our flaws and frailties, then any of us can more easily sail through the troubled waters of life, and keep our sights on our goals, and, hopefully, make some good progress in getting to where we want to go.

Today, I’m grateful for what I’ve done, and who I’ve become, and I’m also grateful for having the challenges that lie ahead. I’m probably ready for them, and more ready now that I once was. And, I know my family is behind me in all of this.