The Old Man
We’ve all wondered what the future holds in store for us. Mostly, we wonder about the events which may influence our lives. In truth, we are mostly influenced by the small, more nuanced experiences which over time help shape our identity.
Mostly, we are influenced by out fathers. There are outliers of course. There are bad fathers, uncaring fathers and unwilling fathers. Still, to have an average father is to blessed. The average father must make a conscience effort to be a better father and the average father is at times just unsure of himself enough to be uncertain and at other times to be resolute and strong in matters he knows to be right. He knows when to perseveres and when to quit. He knows when to apologize and when to demand an apology.
Some men are destined to be kings or presidents, prime ministers or princes. They may do great things and be feted by many but with the passage of time they recede into memory. Those fathers from whom we learn, not by way of achievement but by way of example are never far from our consciousness. Those fathers, imperfect as they may be, shape us in countless ways.
Mario Coumo, former Governor of New York and most eloquent of speakers, said it best.
I talk and talk and talk, and I haven’t taught people in fifty years what my father taught me by example in one week…
‘I watched a small man with thick calluses on both hands work fifteen and sixteen hours a day. I saw him once literally bleed from the bottoms of his feet, a man who came here uneducated, alone, unable to speak the language, who taught me all I needed to know about faith and hard work by the simple eloquence of his example.’
What the future holds will be determined by the examples we set.
Sons rarely get to know their fathers very well, less well, certainly, than fathers get to know their sons. More of an intimidating nature remains for the father to conceal, he being cast in the role of example-setter. Sons know their own guilty intimidations. Eventually, however, they graduate their fears of the lash or the frown, learn that their transgressions have been handed down for generations. Fathers are more likely to consider their own sins to have been original.
The son may ultimately boast to the father of his own darker conquests or more wicked dirkings: perhaps out of some need to declare his personal independence, or out of some perverted wish to settle a childish score, or simply because the young — not yet forged in the furnace of blood — understand less about that delicate balance of natural love each generation reserves for the other. Remembering yesterday’s thrashings, or angry because the fathers did not provide the desired social or economic advantages, sons sometimes reveal themselves in cruel ways.
Wild tigers claw the poor father for failures real or imagined: opportunities fumbled, aborted marriages, punishments misplaced. There is this, too: a man who has discovered a likeness in his own image willing to believe (far beyond what the evidence requires) that he combines the natural qualities of Santa Claus, Superman, and the senior Saints, will not easily surrender to more mature judgments. Long after the junior partner has ceased to believe that he may have been adopted, or that beating-off will grow hair on the hand while the brain slowly congeals into gangrenous matter, the father may pose and pretend, hiding bits and pieces of yesterday behind his back. Almost any father with the precious stuff to care can adequately conceal the pea. ft is natural in sons to lust — yes, to hunger for — an Old Man special enough to have endowed hi; progeny’s genes with genius and steel. Or, failing the ideal, to have a father who will at least remain sturdy, loyal, and therewhen life’s vigilantes come riding with the hangman.
You see the fix the poor bastard is in, don’t you? He must at once apologize and inspire, conceal and judge, strut and intervene, correct and pretend. No matter how far he ranges outside his normal capabilities, he will remain unappreciated through much of the paternal voyage — often neglected, frequently misread, sometimes profaned by his own creation. For all this, the father may evolve into a better man — may find himself closer to being what he claims, a strong role having ways of overpowering the actor. And if he is doubly blessed, he may know a day when his sons (by then, most likely, fathers themselves) will come to love him more than they can bring themselves to say. Then, sometimes, sons get to know their fathers a bit: perhaps a little more than nature intended, and surely more than yesterday would have believed.