A Reminder to Fathers for 2012

The three-year-old boy stumbled through the field behind the horse-drawn equipment. His father drove the plow, turning up the dirt, staring straight ahead at the back of the horses as if the future of the planet depended on him never looking away. Sometimes the young boy tripped and fell in the deep, fresh furrows, muddying his hands and the knees of his tiny trousers. Sometimes his bare foot stuck in the deep gaps, but after pulling it free he stumble-ran to catch up.

His father never looked back. All the boy wanted to do was help, to be with this great masculine presence in his life, but all the father did was keep plowing. The boy followed him all day. His father never once said a word to him, never once shared his lunch, never once lifted him and, pointing off into the distance, told him stories about the forests and the fields and the place where the land and sky collided.

He just kept plowing. And the boy kept walking along behind him.

* * * * *

When the boy grew up and became a father, he didn’t know any different. He passed the same thing on to his own children like some kind of inheritance. As if it were a worthy tradition that merited handing down.

The father who used to be the boy walking behind his own father’s plow had a son, but no matter what the son tried to do, he could not connect with his father.

* * * * *

When that boy grew older, (his father was the boy who used to follow the plow, his grandfather the man who used to drive it), he had children of his own. One of his sons craved his attention more than any other. Every time he went outside, this young son wanted to trail along behind him. Every time he stepped out back, this young son scrambled to find his shoes and coat so that he could go along.

One day, this man needed to go out to the garage to get something. It would only take him a moment.

“Daddy, can I come?” his son asked him.

“I’ll be right back,” the man said.

“Please, daddy? I wanna come out with you!”

“I’m just going into the garage!” the man said, raising his voice. “It will literally take one second! Just wait here.”

Then, the man’s wife called to from the kitchen. The words she said spanned three generations and withered a worthless inheritance.

“He’s just following your plow,” she said.

The father stopped. He waited for the boy to put on his shoes, then helped him slip into his jacket. He held the small boy’s hand. They walked into the garage together.

* * * * *

Fathers, remember your boys. They’re right there behind you, following your plow.

10 Replies to “A Reminder to Fathers for 2012”

  1. Zing! Right between the eyes, as I’ve been that dad–the one that says “No, stay here”-more than I care to admit. In my family, it went down like this:

    My dad was the “make-up” baby, then his parents divorced. He didn’t know his dad–saw him for the last time when he was 12. He had an abusive stepdad (my aunt–dad’s oldest sister–married at 15 to get out of the house). My dad threw himself into athletics–probably in some quest for approval that he never got.

    My parents married in the late 60s, had me a couple of years later, and I think it’s fair to say that my dad was as good a parent as the late Harold Robbins was a writer (Harlan Ellison called him a “creative typist”). Meaning not at all. To wit:

    I have no memory of it, but I’m told my dad would–when I was a toddler (maybe 3, or 4, I was)–throw a ball (maybe a football) at me, become more and more incensed as I failed to catch it, and throw it harder and harder at my stomach until I cried. As I said, I have no memory of this; in fact, was only told of it this year.

    The strongest lesson he left with me was the importance of drinking beer while one watched TV (my mom once caught me as a toddler knocking back a tall, cool one whilst watching Sesame Street because “dat what daddy do”).

    My point is, like the grandfather in your parable, my dad–whether through disinterest, or deliberate action–made damn sure to let me know that I wasn’t needed or wanted. And to my shame, I’ve perpetuated some of it with my son (I wrote about this for Adam McHugh at the end of May this year).

    There is more I could share–about my parents divorce, and its effect–but this comment is long enough.

    God help me, I want to be like that last dad you describe: one who can change course, and build a better relationship with his son.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Chad. The relationship between a father and his child is not limited to that generation, but more often than not spans many hundreds of years.

      The choice is ours.

  2. How true, my dad never played with us outside, throwing a ball, playing catch, hitting a ball, but he didn’t shut me out of his life. He would take me with him whenever he needed to pick up parts for his truck or run errands. I have some great memories that we shared together.

  3. I’ve always thought I had the best Dad in the world. Now I know why.

    We did not have TV. Instead Dad and Mom along with my siblings would play touch football; softball; target practice with 22’s and shotguns; take walks in the woods; he would drag mattresses out on the lawn so we could be comfortable and watch meteor shows and just spend the entire night out there.

    Excellent post Shawn. Hmmm! Wonder how to send this anonymously to my son-in-law. NOT. Just kidding.

  4. Good word Shawn. It’s amazing how easy it is for us to see this in others and become frustrated while failing to recognize the way that we do it in our own lives. Great job tying painting the picture of the connection between the generations and addressing one of the most significant parts of being a great father – spending time with our children.

  5. I went to bed with the image of the stumbling little boy in my head. I woke this morning still thinking about him. I thought of the hundreds, thousands, of acts and behaviors that were performed or not performed by this one father and this one boy alone. Then I extended that thought to the other children in the family, and to the children of those children. Our very world might have been different had that one father been different. Certainly the worlds of his offspring would have been. I agree that we are all products of hundreds of years of behaviors and traits.

    For the few years that I have been wise enough to understand this, I have reminded my siblings that no doubt my parents did the best they could with what they had. I truly thank God that to the very best of my ability, the cycle of disinterest stopped with me. My offspring are doing even better and have produced loving and connected children.

    Thanks for this very powerful story, Shawn.

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