By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s note. To get into the mood of this special Father’s Day article, go to any search engine and find “Cat’s in the Cradle” sung by Harry Chapin in 1974. Its refrain is haunting, and every boy-turned-father understands the bite in the words, often painfully so…
“A child arrived just the other day”, February 16, 1947.
It was my birth day but, as I couldn’t possibly have known, it was the end of their honeymoon and that special tea-for-two idyll that comes only once. My parents married February 16,1946; I teased them for years about the importance of that last digit.
Like all babies, I expected, demanded and maneuvered to be the center of their lives. It’s what babies do.
But I can imagine now what was going on in the weeks prior to that mad-dash to the hospital that transformed my beautiful young mother from a wife with a constituency of one… into a multi-tasking mother.
I was the first born child, first child, first son, first grandson on both sides; every one of these designations pushed omniscient women forward and my father back. The process, you see, in those post-War years was not made for fathers, no matter how caring. And, upon arrival, I monopolized my mother. I’ve told you, it’s what babies do… and even then I was masterful at my craft.
There must have been times, though no one to this day has ever said so, when he missed the bright, laughing eyed girl he’d married. She was the essence of the “fun on a date” ‘forties girl who had the gift of joy with lots to spare.
She gave me a clue years later, telling me she didn’t like children, didn’t mean to have any, and thought they looked like frogs. (Queen Victoria thought so, too). But, she quickly added and always emphasized that all that changed when the nurse handed me over for my first visit, textbook perfect infantile innocence.
I’d “come into the world in the usual way”. And I was determined to keep the full and undivided attention of the woman who didn’t yet know how her own instincts would conduce to my constant benefit; literally born yesterday I didn’t need Dr. Spock to tell me that.
Into this new, unstudied situation my father had to move and move delicately for now words like “shhhhhh, he’s sleeping” meant sacrifice, limitations, and even unwonted loneliness. It was a sea-change from the happy “you-for-me-and-me-for-you” days of such recent memory.
“He learned to walk while I was away.”
Like most children I don’t know what I actually remember or what I have, from pictures and family stories, been taught to remember. But there is hardly a memory either way that is not more her than him. He worked hard, long hours, lucky to have a job in the recession that promptly came with our unqualified war victory. She was the center of my universe. And, like Chapin, my first steps were probably taken when he was being a “good provider”. But there is a story that sums up the situation.
One hot, humid Illinois summer day (are there any other?) when I was about three, my mother and I screamed for ice cream. But there was not a dollar to be had… except for a dollar bill my father had circulated amongst his Navy buddies, to be autographed by each. Such a token was not to be surrendered lightly, but it was surrendered nonetheless, for the delicacy of an instant and later, poignant regrets. He must have loved us very much to do such a thing… it says volumes about the man.
“My son turned ten just the other day. He said, “Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let’s play.”
In the suburbs of Chicago in the early Eisenhower years, you needed to be good at handling the balls of several sports… or so bright that you could afford to ignore sports because you were destined for greater things. My brother filled the first category; I filled the second. I knew my brother was easier to handle; he fit in, particularly the year he made the state Little League team, and we all trooped down to Freeport to watch him, resplendent in a uniform that said “Moose”; this was lifetime certification that he was a boy’s boy…
I was different, always with my nose in a book, the one who when asked at age 10 or so what he wanted to be when he grew up, without dropping a beat, said “Harvard graduate; millionaire; writer of many books.” It wasn’t what prairie parents were accustomed to hearing… What’s more, it all came true in due course…
Another celebrated incident took place about this time. My parents and I went to some local swimming hole for a day of the kind of innocent amusements I couldn’t wait to escape from. At the end of the day, it was, I think, my mother who said the inevitable line about their guests, “Cute couple. Great relationship.” That sort of thing. What did I think? Without missing a beat I said I thought they had problems… and seer-like, foretold splitsville. Of course, I was told I was wrong, but just weeks later they separated. My stock soared… and my father pressed me less to fire a gun, build superb back yard igloos, throw a ball, you get the picture. He had to wonder about this creature sui generis.. and what his role as father might mean or entail.
I was not an easy child, although I say it myself, an interesting one. He must have seen I was moving beyond his sphere into uncharted waters. I could hardly wait until it happened and my joy at crossing another day off the calendar, the sooner to commence my Great Journey, must have been palpable, even affronting. I did not want what his life epitomized and I was too green, unknowing how to say this without insult… and uncaring about the effect.
There was, in those years, more coexistence than empathy., not least because he tried hard to get me to understand and adopt verities he saw as fundamental and essential… about which I had quite different ideas. I severely embarrassed him the day I refused to answer the pastor’s call for Communion, being unable to subscribe to the tenets. (I have never taken Communion sincen.)
There was, too, his desire that I should understand the farmer’s life practised by all my cousins and should, as part, learn how to harvest oats and drive a tractor. The first scratched; the second bored. Neither oats nor tractor have played any role in my development.
“Well, he came from college just the other day…”
My launching pad to the vision I had long been shaping for my life came with a college acceptance letter. ….. and thereafter, too long, communications were as rushed and superficial as Harry Chapin sings.
“I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away…”
And so it might have stayed, both of us stubborn, obstinate, headstrong — proud men, unyielding. But, you see, the love that caused a prized war memento to be sacrificed had always been present, waiting for auspicious times. He told me the other day, cast down now and again by the tremors and afflictions of the way we age now, that he was ready to go whenever the good Lord wants him. And neither he nor I fear that… for we have, at last, found each other and gladly so.
“And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me, He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.”
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses.
Republished with author’s permission by Graham Lee – The Income Zone