Fathers Day (Joie de Vivre)
My wife is due with our first child in November. Needless to say, parenthood has been on my mind. I spend a great deal of my time dealing with troubled families in my law practice, witnessing great strength and resiliency, sacrifice and love, but also selfishness, pettiness and upset. Questions about parenthood, what is expected of parents, what it means to be a good parent and the cost of failing at that task cannot help but be part of my daily reflections and my daily conversations. And now that I will have my own child on the way, those questions have taken on an even more prominent position in my thoughts.
I am excited to become a father. I simply can't wait to raise my baby with as much love, care and joie de vivre as my father raised me. We all learn by example, and the what I learned from my father's raising me and my brother and sister is to raise children joyfully. Take pleasure in your kids, enjoy their company, and enjoy being around them. My father taught us to love life, and all that the good Lord has deigned to give to you, the happiness, the sadness, the joy and unrest. All of it.
If you know my father, you likely know him for his kindness and humor, for his big personality and his good works. Every good word said about my dad is true.
My father was everything a person could want in a dad. He was encouraging. He supported all of me and my siblings pursuits. He set high expectations for us and helped us to reach them. He was and still is a constant loving presence in our lives. He taught us responsibility and right from wrong. He actively sought out (and still seeks out) time with each of us. He showed us how to relate to other people with compassion and humor.
The interesting thing about growing older, however, is you begin to see different shades of your parents; see the secret sides of them that you were too self-involved to see as a child. With my father, what I have learned about him as I've grown older is that he is at his absolute best in difficult situations. That he is exactly the man he purports to be.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to witness my father's magnanimity in action.
When my grandmother and grandfather were dying, my father took care of them. Each suffered in their own, specifically miserable way, leaving us all at the point where it was agreed that death was a mercy. My grandfather, who had been a beacon of sharp wit and insight, a central and important figure in both my life and, obviously, my father's life was slowly lost to dementia. My father took care of him without complaint and without much help as he slowly and then quickly slipped away. I was in law school at the time and not home too often. My father had to bear the great weight of these horrible last few months as my grandfather deteriorated, watching as his own father retreated back into a state of infantile need. The grace and compassion with which he handled my grandfather's passing left an indelible mark on me and how I view my father. It was, in a short set of time, a visible demonstration that my father was, truly, the man he represented himself to be and who he raised me and my brother and sister to be.
My grandmother had a stroke six months or so before she died. For months she was trapped in her own head, in what seemed to be constant pain. I was around for her death. About a month before she passed, my father had to go out of town for a week and asked me to go stay with her a few hours each night while he was gone. Pretty much every night for the months prior, he had spent several hours with her, with his brothers alternating a few shifts with him. So I did. And for one week, I sat with her by myself, holding her hand and talking to her, and suffered the horrible emotional tumult of watching my grandmother, his mother, who I loved so much and knew for her kindness and warmth, suffering, trapped, knowing I was there, but frozen. My heart broke every night I spent with her, and my father had spent countless nights there, watching his own mother suffer. Again, without complaint or anger at the unfairness of the situation. But this time, I was there and I saw the cost the weight had on him. I felt the weight as I bore just the smallest fraction, and it broke my heart into a thousand pieces. And he carried it every day with faith, love and a smile. Incredible.
I don't write about this out of sadness. One of the greatest gifts my father ever gave me was asking to share his burden, even if only for a brief time. I have thought about my grandmother's passing often over the past few years and how my father handled it. And I have thought about all the sacrifices he made for me, my siblings and my mother over the years (things I am sure he would not characterize as sacrifices).
I think what he has always has been teaching me is that love is an active process. It is a choice. Whether it be your parents, kids, wife, siblings or friends, we chose to love and must be vigilant in upholding the responsibilities that come with the choice. You do things for those you love, hard things, things that don't mesh with your schedule, things that complicate your life, things that make you sad, because you love them. You do it because if you put in the work, you will be rewarded in a thousand unexpected ways. The joy that my father exudes every time I see him is living proof of that.