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.