The most important man in my life was my father. I loved my dad though as with some fathers and sons, we had our disagreements. “Agreeing to disagree,” he called it. An electronics engineer by nature and an independent by trade, he wouldn’t have wanted it otherwise.
Dad expressed his love for me in many ways, most of them nonverbal. By demonstration and example he taught me how to think, use my hands – “the thumb is an amazing tool,” he said – solve problems, and with two words, how to work with men. Dad taught me which end of the iron is hot, meaning which end of the soldering iron, but also “what’s what.” He taught me the skills of being a home handyman. He showed me how to make my wife feel safe.
Dad supported me in the risks I took, let me climb out on thin limbs when Mom was opposed, and quietly rooted for me, as his father had for him. In his mentoring and the freedoms he gave me was his love.
It wasn’t until late in his life that he started saying, “I love you” to me, something I had long known. They were the last words we exchanged, with a hug, before his death in a horrific car crash a few weeks later.
It made his passing less difficult to navigate: everything that needed to be said, had been. Thank you, Dad, for your love and support. I miss you, bud.
I’ve heard some guys say regretfully, “My father never said he loved me.” But when I ask them if they felt Dad’s love through his mentoring, they say yes. It is an acceptance some men must reach, that their father’s love was shown, not uttered. And it is an acceptance that some women may wish to reach, that their husbands and boyfriends don’t always say,
“I love you.” We try to show it in silent ways.
Of the 500 pieces I received in response to my call for submissions, maybe half were directly about or touched on the father-son connection. Most of them were written by the son about the father. It can be the strongest bond and the most contentious relationship, often both at once. As Bruce Springsteen said in his show, Springsteen on Broadway, “My father was my hero … and my greatest foe.”
Here are stories that witness fathers with their sons. In “Holding Levi’s Hand,” we find Craig Brooke-Weiss following his own mind. No other submission dealt with this particular father-son scenario, and my hat is off to Craig for the wisdom and courage of his life decision.
Jed Diamond, author of seventeen books on men’s health, tells a story of “My Father, My Son, Myself.” Jed drove a long road to reuniting three generations of Diamond boys and reconciling with his dad. His story pivots on his father’s obligation to support his family.
In “Game Face” by Russell Reece, the death of a family dog triggers a father’s awakening to his son. The theme here, similar to that of Jed Diamond’s piece, is a man’s obligation to support his family. It came back from my editor with tear stains streaking the page.
Andre Dubus iii, author of House of Sand and Fog, awakens to fatherhood in his story, “The Door.” When I posted his piece on the website, Antonia left this comment: “I was swept up into this man’s journey through fatherhood… . Now I’m in tears of joy for the outcome. Beautifully written.”
Thank you, Antonia.
Mike Schneider’s poem about his dad, himself, and his daughter is titled “Old Blue Volvo.” What’s happening here? Is it the awakening of the son to his father living within him?
To close this section, Michael Chabon writes about himself as “A Textbook Father” for his daughter. His writing ends this section and begins the next with “The Hand on My Shoulder.” Both are from his 2009 essay collection, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son. Chabon is the only writer to appear twice in this anthology; he is one of America’s greatest writers.