Sunday, 16 June 2013

The craft of the father

It's Fathers' Day and the obituaries are full of in memoriams, and Facebook is plastered with father/child pictures. I've made the apple pie, so I take a long walk between rainstorms while elder daughter prepares the rest of the meal as a Father's Day gift. The Accent Snob performs canine arabesques, and I meditate on the nature of fatherhood.

Which is damn presumptuous of me, when you think about it. In the shelves in the study is a book I haven't read for a very long time: You Just Don't Understand by linguist Deborah Tannen. Her premise, as far as I can recall, was that every marriage -- every heterosexual marriage, that is -- is an intercultural marriage. So I wonder if I, as a woman brought up in the culture of women, dare comment on the man's role of father over in the foreign country of men.

Yet, I have been fathered. (And he wasn't a bad father, when he was sober. And present.) I've helped create a father by giving birth to my daughters, and watched as he re-created himself in the role, as the respective complexities of our children emerged like the butterfly out of the chrysalis. I consider the other complicated father-and-child combinations that I've either descended from or have witnessed: Demeter's stormy relationship with her strict and rather domineering father (my grandfather), and the Resident Fan Boy's father with his lugubrious Edwardian sentimentality mixed with equally Edwardian prejudices. When my maternal grandfather died unexpectedly at the age of 67 (which seemed ancient to me, then ten), my mother came home white with shock, having received the telegram at work. The Resident Fan Boy still grieves his father, now fourteen years gone.

I guess what we three former children -- my mother, my husband, and I -- have in common is the knowledge that we were loved, no matter how imperfectly, and that knowledge makes up for a mountain of mistakes. No matter how many missteps the Resident Fan Boy has taken with his daughters, they can have no doubt of his utter and helpless devotion to them. It's a double-edged sword, but hey -- nobody said this was easy.

I make my way home, pausing to watch a Pileated Woodpecker, his tail-feathers hanging like a morning coat, edging his way up the long trunk of a birch tree by the Rideau River. Elder daughter has prepared salmon with a dill sauce with three cheeses in it. The Resident Fan Boy watches his girls leave the table at the close of the meal.

"I feel cherished," he says quietly. Later, I add two photos to my Facebook page: my favourite pictures of him with each of our daughters.

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