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Father and Further Away

Father and Further Away

My father had little use for Father’s Day, and any attempt to indulge him in the vulgarities of such spurious holiday observances was to disrespect him. He was wholly an unromantic and pragmatic character who, while appreciative of a good laugh or a good meal, never stooped to cheap sentimentality or emotion. He had a warm smile, an affable manner, and a tireless intellect and vocabulary, but was often quick-tempered and impatient when met with any degree of adversity (this could be triggered by anything from loosing a parking space to loosing 10K at a blackjack table). He was widely respected and well-liked by nearly everyone he came in contact with, but, as is the gripe with a lot of adult children, being his son was not a walk in the park.

It is fair to say that fatherhood (and parenthood for that matter) is neither easy nor intuitive for many new fathers. As much as I would like to think that the collective notion of fatherhood (and fathering) has become more substantiated, and less auxiliary over time, it does seem like mothers have a more intuitively defined imperative when it comes to fulfilling the role of parent. This is not an attempt to pit one against the other, but I think it is only fair to say that as little of a road map as there is for mothering, there is nary a crude sketch for fathering. So when I reflect upon my own experience being a son to a father who seemed to walk backwards into the role, and my current responsibility as father to my own child, I share some of my father’s bewilderment and uncertainty but find it tempered by far more accord and self-awareness than I would imagine he experienced on the job.

Having my father dead and gone for about seven years now, I have become keenly aware of my identity as someone’s son receding into history, just to have it replaced with the less passive and more expressive role of being someone’s father. I am set up for all of the mistakes, missteps, and narcissistic trappings that nearly all fathers succumb to at some point during their illustrious career as parent (some obviously are more set to falter than others). Whatever a modern father is, we hope against hope that we are not only making daily improvements in the lives of our children, but also making significant improvements upon the state of fatherhood – redeeming its honor and exalting it beyond its generally perceived limitations.

One of the last conversations I had with my father was one about semantics. This is hardly odd, considering we related best on this level. He had asked me if I knew the difference between the word “further” and “farther.” Instead of giving in immediately, I did some intellectual monkeying around the definition, until he corrected me and said, “farther is pertaining to distance, and further is pertaining to time.” Seven years ahead of that moment, I appreciate the differentiation between distance and time and acknowledge the fading memory of being a son and having a father.

Happy Father’s Day

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

11 comments

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7:21PM PDT on Jun 22, 2009

Eric Steinman wrote his article in respect to Father's Day and his recognition of Fatherhood (indeed Parenthood) and its idiosyncrasies, it expresses depth and scope.

The comments that I have glanced through underscores the immense joy, deep hurt and bewilderment and dependent on the individual commentary.

The impact of some of the expressions, indicate the very real need to learn to forgive completely and without condition. It was very late in life on another dimension, that I was fortunate to learn that lesson and continue to be educated on the process of forgiveness. The benefits to oneself and those around is astonishingly remarkable and it somehow removes excess baggage and free's the senses to build better relationships.

There can be so much blame allocated and without understanding the why's and wherefore's of what the real cause of the hurt. But Forgiveness is an avenue to improving and seeking what is good in life.

Ideals and perfection are not necessarily achievable but if we strive to achieve them, then that measure to ourselves will be commendable. In that regard be they Father or Mother or indeed our own Parenting any evaluation needs to have a balance with objectivity, understanding, love and indeed forgiveness for any flaws.

Eric Steinman has done good, by expressing in a public forum that, which many would consider a very private matter. In a World filled with cynics the article was delightfully refreshing and by its approach. - Thank You Eric S

6:23PM PDT on Jun 22, 2009

What a sad thread. It is clear that there is a lot of pain around this issue. Perhaps airing it in this venue can be a catalyst to seeking help in making sense of the past and in improving outcomes for todays children and parents.

4:26PM PDT on Jun 22, 2009

great article, and lovely comments, very interesting to read

2:49PM PDT on Jun 22, 2009

Humm! In life or in love I notice very few people get the perfect harmony, the idyllic "Garden of Eden". Till we "grow up", we realize they, mom or dad were people, just people. They are some very good dads, I think most men are very egocentric. That is why more women wants kids and no man if they can afford it. At this point they have one less kid to take care of. In any past society of our civilization there were some kids with nice recollections of their dad or gran dad and some not so nice, as of now-nothing changes. Man treats their wife the same way as their kids so the kids rally to mom. Mom works also nowadays-like women worked in the past> the man has a headacke for his days work-the women has a headacke in bed-really piss off because she ends up battling everything. Pheut! There goes Eden. But obliously they do not have their live/love together. His and Hers Ideas are not the same wave lenght to have a family because for what ever reason are they battling each other?
I come from such a family, my father even trew a butcher knife at my mothers head-that's love? I was 4 or 5 now 62.
That is a marriage or a child that should not have been. Here I am. In my mother's way my father came first so she could "cool" his megalomania. None of them raise me--
He pitted me against my mom-my mom was the bread winner-my dad raised me, He taugh me a lot of things, how to trow a knife or an axe, how to shoot crows, how to count #'s when I was 5. and how to wait for him at the p

7:55AM PDT on Jun 22, 2009

I never had a dad growing up, well I did but I didn't see him every day. My uncle was always my father figure.

7:39AM PDT on Jun 22, 2009

john, you misunderstand my post. i never intimated that i had an idyllic childhood. Although i knew my father loved me, he rarely showed it, and reserved it for the times when he could do something heroic, like fixing things at the last minute.

what i meant to impart, john, was that we have a responsibility as men and fathers to set a good example. and that we have two chances at good father/son relationships. we have little choice in the first with our own fathers, but its all our choice as father to our own children.

its odd that you should suggest i keep my opinions to myself when you so readily offered yours.

however, admire your success in turning a bad situation into a very good one for your children and their children. kudos to you !!!

7:10AM PDT on Jun 22, 2009

I completely understand Eric before my father became ill he never was there for any of us I take that back he was always there for my oldest sister because she was his favorite.
But being really close to any of us NEVER he was the provider when he came home from work all he wanted was silence it even extended to our friends they were really scared of him.
The biggest problem with him he was very Austrian and I don't know whether you are familiat with them but they are very warlike peoples not warm at all.
I never heard him say to any of us that he loved us but from what my mom said he did but I never felt it. The only thing he liked about me is I did ballet but that was about it.
When he became ill with a severe stroke we ended up having to move the United States because he was working for the United States Government in the Panama, Canal Zone and he was no longer of any use we were told to move either to the United States or move into Panama proper and my parents didn't want that so we ended moving to the United States of which was horrible because they really didn't want us either. We moved here in 1955 when the Cubans started moving here and they were far more important than us the Americans. The Cubans got food free housing free medical free but us Americans got nothing and we were suffering. The food that was given the Cubans they threw in the streets literally because it was the wrong food.
My father was worse after he became ill.

6:46AM PDT on Jun 22, 2009

Well thought out and written, a profound article "Farther and Further" I have a lot of empathy with the Author. My Father also is further away by three years. I am a Father of children at 30 and 27 years old and yes there was comparative progress in some ways to my Parenting vs my Parents but for sure there were also many flaws.

Certainly in my day there was no course or teaching for Parenthood and I don't believe there can ever be such a comprehensive course, as Parenting can be effected so very much by circumstances, situations and environments.

As Fathers we are robbed of time with our children and wives by our livelihoods that are time consuming. But as it said, that it is the quality of the time spent versus the amount, which truly counts and indeed I learned that lesson far to late in life.

It is a belief, that each generation should make better for the next generation, a better life. That entails a solid foundation that consists of all the right values and implementation of such in their lives. Another way to look at it, have we as Fathers taken our heritages and improved or enhanced them and provided as a result tangible inheritances beyond the material that our children can take forward?

In doing so, then we can be satisfied that we have made a good contribution and hopefully other Fathers have done similarly and idealistically I realise maybe we improve the World by a little.

Being a Father is absolutely a Great Privilege

Simply thank you to te au

6:45AM PDT on Jun 22, 2009

I agree with George and this is how my husband is fathering our children and how I was raised so this is the real world for many people. I am sorry John that you did not have the same childhood as us but that is no reason to say someone should keep their opinions to themselves.

6:38AM PDT on Jun 22, 2009

It must have been wonderful to have had such an idyllic childhood and upbringing like George Z, but I feel that his opinions should be kept to himself, me I'm from the real world, parents broken marriage, never really knew my parents, never had any money, but guess what, I seemed to have turned out all right and have had a great life to boot with a couple of kids and grand kids as well, what a fantastic world you can make for yourself if you try, with or without parents

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