A Nurse with a Gun

Monday, June 16, 2008

On Fatherhood

I spent today reflecting on Father's Day. I am a father of three children, two by fortuitous virtue of my marriage, one as a result of that marriage. Two are grown, and the last one almost there.

I had to work Father's day this year. I awoke at 4:45 so I could begin my first case at 6:00AM. In between cases I called my oldest daughter in Baton Rouge. She received her Juris Doctorate from LSU this year. "Hi Dad!" she exclaimed when she heard my voice. We exchanged pleasantries. I knew my wife and my youngest would be meeting her in New Orleans later in the day.

My son now teaches math at the University of Arkansas. I remember when he told me that he regrettably did not want to be a surgeon after all. He said he did not think he could handle the responsibility, and he changed the course of his life. I was stymied, but I realized his life is his to live. He has done well, he is a good man, and I am proud of him. My youngest, Little Darling, will be the healer among our children instead

I could not reach my son by telephone, but an email from him was waiting for me when I arrived back home. "Happy Father's Day!" it began. I was exhausted from a day of cases at two different hospitals. It was six-o'clock again, the other six-o'clock. I retrieved a cola and some cold potato salad from the fridge for supper, and began studying rafts of scent to better understand Ilsa's training. Beautiful Wife and Little Darling would not arrive home for another two hours, assuming they were not late. (Ha!)

Today, I began my day again at 4:45AM. I scrubbed in a bit later, at 6:30AM. I worked cases with family present in the waiting room, and cases with no family to be found. As I worked, I conversed over patients with the other men of heavy responsibilities and sometimes regrettable burdens with whom I work. We talked about Tiger Woods, LSU football, shooting, and of course Father's Day. I was not alone in spending Father's Day disconnected from my children.

In the conversational lulls that men inevitably have, I thought of my own father. He died when I was two years old, and I only have one precious genuine memory of him. My mother never re-married, and I grew to be a man without a father's guidance when needed. Yet he was there. The power of a loving father was kept alive in my heart by my mother's stories about him. I knew who he was, what he stood for, and that I had a legacy to uphold. He was an ethereal force within my life, even in death. Without his presence, I would not be who I am today. Not that I am boastful of who I am, but I know I would be a lesser man. He is buried too far away to visit his grave, but I wished him a silent Father's Day, and thanked him for being my hero.

That is what a father is. Anything less is simply a man with offspring. A father is his child's first hero. It is perhaps the heaviest responsibility any man will bear. Whether he accepts that role or not speaks volumes for his character. A man who is unwilling to be a hero for a child is an overgrown child himself. It does not take much to be a child's hero. Super powers or paternal instinct are not necessary. It doesn't even require a child of one's own genetic structure. It only takes the willingness to be there for a child when needed, and the wisdom to provide proper guidance when required. When the inevitable parental fall from grace occurs in the teen years the resoluteness to remain steady on course is crucial. During those years a child is like a swimmer exploring a vast ocean, and the parent is their boat. If their boat leaves, the child will drown unless another boat appears.

Heroes have been available for boys with absent fathers through most of history. In modern times, young men without fathers have access to a greater range of media information, but fewer men who measure up to hero status. Alan Shepherd was my hero as a boy. There was precious little information about this man who I never met available to me, yet I strove to be like him. Perhaps that was a good thing. In today's world, Shepherd's exalted status would likely have been disposed of before he splashed down in the ocean. We all have pasts, and media heroes are quickly laid bare to the vultures who pick at their bones.

Little did I know that my most influential and steadfast hero was within myself in the form of my own father. A child can run away from a father, but they can not escape his influence. A man will influence and teach his children by his character, integrity and deeds. Children are not swayed by words, and they quickly decipher the carefully crafted illusion of bullshit parading around as valor. They will be taught virtue, or they will be taught deceit. They will, however, be taught. It is inevitable.

I firmly believe that when we are dying, that even if we are not judged by a higher power, we will judge ourselves. The harshest failure that a man can bear is the realization that he failed to be his child's hero. It is often said that upbringing (or the lack thereof) leaves an indelible mark on a person's life, and children become who their parents were. That may or may not be true. What is true though, is we become who our children are. They are what we leave behind in this world. They will speak for us and remember us as we slowly return to dust. How we are spoken of and remembered is up to us alone. It is out of our control, except by our actions. We can chose to rot away forgotten, or we can chose to be a hero. The result is the ultimate dividend on how we invested our life.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Not Too Pensive said...

A child can run away from a father, but they can not escape his influence.

And that is what I fear the most.

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Hans said...

Wow. As someone who lost his father at age 5 and who's mother never remarried, I certainly can relate to what Xavier is saying. I've also recently married to a woman with three teenagers and have taken up the mantle of fatherhood. I will take Xavier's words of wisdom to heart and pass them on to my wife's deadbeat ex.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Divemedic said...

I only hope that I can be half the man that my father was.

2:16 PM  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

Wow - this was profound and beautifully written, Xav. You're a brilliant reflection of your father. I'm sorry you didn't have more time with him, but I am glad of the power of his influence over your life. You're a son any man would be proud of.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Not Too Pensive said...

To clarify my above statement:

My father was an abusive, adulterous drunkard who, in spite of personal wealth, did all he could to shun responsibility for his children. My parents divorced the week I turned four, and I have not spoken to my father since roughly age 15. I consider myself a much better person for it.

I have spent the better part of my life since fighting that influence. I suppose I could interpret Xavier's statement as influence either way - for good or for ill. If anything, my father, influence has provided a model of what not to be and compelled me to strive to become the opposite.

It is made all the more unfortunate by the fact that he is a man of means, and could find me fairly easily. He has not attempted contact in over 8 years, but I have a feeling that, should he darken my doorstep, the confrontation will be violent and short. I will not allow that influence to touch my family.

I, too, hope to be able to apply Xavier's words in the (hopefully) near future.

Great post.

6:08 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

Very thought provoking piece, thank you for writing it.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Owen said...

excellent! truly an amazing piece of writing do you mind if i save to reference later?

9:49 PM  
Blogger DouginSalcha said...

Xavier,

My father was a "good warrior" during WWII (Army Air Corps & later the US Air Force) but a miserable failure as a father. He was an abusive drunk and my Mom took myself and my sisters and left when I was about 9 years old.

My "Father Influence" came from her Dad (we grandchildren all called him "Pappy"). Sometimes you have to take your guidance from whereever it is available. Some came from an Uncle and some came from my Scout Master and a little bit came from my Drafting Teacher in High School.

Sometimes you just have to "make do with what you have". Sounds like your Dad was a worthwhile influence (and it sounds like you are someone I'd like to know as well). Thanks for all you put into your Blog.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Not Too Pensive said...

I'll add on to Doug's post:

My grandfather had a much greater influence on me as well.

He was an airman in WWII. He signed up for the Army at the ripe old age of 16 right after Pearl Harbor and never wanted to be an airman - he signed up for Airborne, did all he could to become a gunner, and qualified for sharpshooter in the hopes of getting shifted to an infantry unit. But the old Alabama farmboy was either too good a mechanic to let go or too colorblind to perform the job in each case, so he spent the war in England fixing up damaged planes, loading ordnance, and working on machine guns. He did all he could to avoid just sitting on his duff for the whole war, though - he made a few "unauthorized" trips as a gunner aboard a handful of bombing runs over Germany, that crazy old man.

Like most of the American boys over there, he was interested in the English women. Unlike most, however, he was completely honest about where he came from and what he had. My grandmother described their meeting thus "I'd met all of these American boys, who all said they came from a big plantation house with servants and the like, and they all showed me a picture. Only it was the same picture! Then I met your grandfather, who rather bluntly said all he had was a few bucks in his pocket and 'wanna dance?' Finally, an honest American!"

They married shortly after the war ended, and 63 years later are still madly in love. He ran a variety of small businesses throughout the south and finally retired when he had a heart attack.

I can't think of a better compliment than that, "an honest American." It pains me to see him getting older, and to know that we'll lose him. But he has certainly lived a good life.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Keith Walker said...

I have covenanted before God to be what I did not have. We welcome our third child into this world in about three weeks.

2:36 PM  

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