On Fatherhood

Father’s Day, and my only child is far from home, participating in an archaeological field school in Canada. My plans today are to be petulant, surly, and demanding as a result.

I have spent a large part of my life dwelling on capital “F” Fatherhood, first in the most abstract ways, then far more concretely in the last 18 years. Aly will reach legal majority days after returning from the field school. She’ll leave for college this autumn. She and I stand at a crossroads, perhaps The crossroads of our relationship.

Last August, I wrote something in my Franklin Planner, a simple statement that I find now and then, and consider. I don’t know why I wrote it (I take notes faithfully, but rarely remember to record the why of what I say).

Here’s what I wrote:

“It’s not my job to help Aly fulfill my personal hopes for her. My job is to offer her ways to fulfill her personal hopes.”

Whatever prompted me to write that, I definitely believe it to be true. This came home to me while sitting in Norm Easton’s cluttered living room, surrounded by a small group of young people, including Aly, watching a PowerPoint presentation.Norm’s the professor leading the field school Aly’s attending. The presentation outlined the work the team would be doing in the Yukon and central Alaska this summer. To my surprise, the dig will focus on prehistoric eras. Artifacts will include remains of extinct creatures the indigenous people hunted for food.

This took me back to my childhood ambition to become a paleontologist. I chose this career at age 4, and pursued it until I discovered girls in my early teens, after which it faded considerably. Aly, too, planned to become a paleontologist, switching to archaeology inĀ  high school.

What struck me as I watched the presentation is that I never liked the excavation methods involved in paleontology. I saw them as a necessary part of the career, but it didn’t capture my attention as much as other aspects: skeleton reconstruction and theorizing about the physical appearance and behaviors of prehistoric animals. Aly, however, has had experience in the extraction method, and does like it. I could tell she was really getting into the more technical aspects of the presentation, even as my mind wandered.

I remembered what I wrote, and could see why. Being a father is not about shaping your child into the fulfillment of one’s hopes and dreams, it’s about helping one’s child pursue their own hopes and dreams.

Doing that successfully seems like fulfillment enough for any man.

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