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.