I don’t know when it started but every so often I think about what my dad was like at my age, or whatever the age I was at the time. Did he have the same struggles? All my life I saw “my dad” as a grown man who knew all the answers. In fact, it was quite a shock when I first had kids and their friends would look up to me and say “Hi “Mr. Webster…”. I realized that they weren’t seeing “Greg;” they were seeing “my dad”. Truth be told, I wasn’t ready for this.
I began to laugh at myself thinking I was becoming “my dad.” Like many of us, we start making “those sounds” that he did. Whether it is an “umph,” “ugh,” or “Oh” as a common task was becoming an exertion.
Holding my oldest daughter when she was first born it amused us both thinking I was more like my dad than I thought. I used to joke with him saying “Man, I thought you had all the answers when I was a kid and now after the birth of my daughter I realize you didn’t.” We would both laugh. I was lying of course. I still believed my dad had all the answers.
Having children of my own “fatherhood” has always been the point of reflection. It is probably a violation of Darwinism that I was allowed to breed. My wife and I would joke at how dumb we were becoming in the eyes of our children as they grew older. In fact, I would often joke that my oldest daughter was gifted- she knew her dad was a dope at age seven. It’s coming full circle though. Now my wife and I laugh that as our oldest daughter is out on her own how much smarter we are becoming again. We are not out of the woods yet; we still have a daughter in high school…
Recently, I was again thinking about my dad and how he must’ve felt in his 40 and 50’s. My father faced a career then that he seldom talked about. Dad was a provider and would not be seen as anything less to his family. Of course I was in high school then and like most young people at that age, oblivious to reality. Having several career setbacks of my own later became a point of conversation for my dad and me. He told me once when I was complaining about a job, “you will have good managers and you will have bad managers. Learn to deal with it.” Wait, my Dad had managers? How could the patriarch of my family report to another?? “He” was the man… Reality set in. Now when I think of my dad, I realize the struggles in my life that I faced aren’t too distant from his. Harry Chapin had it wrong. My dad was becoming more like me.
This realization probably would not have been too welcome in the years of my youth. I always really looked up to my father. Not only did I love him, I had a great respect and admiration for him. His values became the values I wanted to emulate. He modeled the man I wanted to be. Dad did his best for his kids to grow up in “Mayberry.” It was a goal I had for mine as well. My dad and mom were a stable force in our lives. And well, at least my wife is for our kids now. (Another lesson my Dad taught me – marry well.)
My parents were there for me whenever I needed them, whether I knew it or not. They were there for my first breath and it was my goal to be near for their last. When my dad was dying in hospice, I returned to work at a point where I thought he no longer knew I was in the room. A day later, I got a call at work from my wife telling me that a nurse just informed her that my dad had about an hour to live. It was late afternoon and I was on the north side of Chicago and dad was on the south side. I set new speed records through rush-hour traffic needing to be there when he died. Miraculously, I made it through the city in record time. When I got to his room he had shallow, peaceful breathing, not the forced, rapid breaths that hospice trained me to expect. A moment I feared for so long was full of peace. I began to pray the Office for the Dead. Dad was gone. I was there and I was so happy that I was there for him. In reality I was there for me. Another lesson from Dad I guess.
My perspective on my Dad has changed so much these last couple years. Every time I experience a life event I think to myself “Ah, that’s what my dad was feeling.” All these years later I think I know him better than I ever have. I understand my Dad more now than ever. We share experiences now that he had then. Dad has become more like me.
I’m guessing that is why Jesus described God as “Father.” Yes, Fathers protect. Fathers provide and Fathers guide us through battle. That is not all. Fathers love. I often look back and realize the many times I let my dad down. It hurts me to know that I did that. Yet, I also know that my dad didn’t hold it against me. He realized it was just part of growing up. Life has made me understand why Jesus reminds us that if our own father’s love and forgive us how much more does our Father in heaven. I love my daughters simply for being my daughters. I may get mad; I may disagree but, never stop loving them.
So while my dad will always be held up by me as the model for what a man ought to be, I again laugh at how many times he fooled me. Dad’s joys, struggles and life in many respects mirror my own. It makes him even greater in my eyes. It is so cool to know that we shared laughs, we shared love and now I know how much life we share in common.
I was blessed with both a great father and father-in-law. Thank you both for being you. I know in the Communion of Saints they are still watching out for us.
Eternal rest grant to all our fathers who have past. May perpetual light shine on them all.