Sunday, June 21, 2009

We're still here

True story I've just remembered: from so long ago, Patrick is our only child. He and I are driving from our home in Offenbach to my work in Frankfurt am Main. He is about three or so in the back seat of our car, in his car seat. The car is waiting for the light to change at the intersection of Eschenheimer Landstrasse and Adickesallee, just a block down from the old Frankfurt cemetery. "You know what?" he asked me, in German (as that's all we spoke), looking out the side window at a kebab-laden or a trinkhalle, "if Mom had married someone else, I would have a different father." Thanks for playing, indeed.

Both of my brothers, Kelly and Adam, are fathers, so Happy Father's Day to them and to you, even if you're not one of my brothers. All three of us are fathers without a reference library as our own father passed away almost thirty years ago and, quite frankly, set an example before his passing that I suspect none of us would have been interested in following.

I don't know if either of them have, in the course of their own families, had moments where they've wondered 'what would Dad have done?' I have had a few, but not as many as being the oldest, perhaps, I should have had. My wife and I are married for almost thirty-two years, and all but about eleven minutes of that are because of her hard work and certainly NOT mine. We have two children, a son turning twenty-seven in three weeks and a daughter whose birthday (her age is her business and not my story) was a little more than a month ago.

When my son was small and when my daughter was (much) younger, I was fortunate that my wife's Dad, Franz, was close at hand to serve as a sounding board to his somewhat befuddled and other cultured son-in-law as he struggled to remain competitive in the Parenting Olympiad. I never wanted children, or thought I never did, until Patrick and Michelle were born. I was very fine with defining myself as Sigrid's husband but I think 'and father of Patrick and Michelle' adds a lot to my resume.

I don't have happy memories of interaction with my Dad and learned many years later he could have said the same about his relationship with his father. I grew up thinking somehow I was the screw-up and judging from the caustic comments, I wasn't alone. I was numb, literally, after we learned my wife was pregnant with Patrick because I feared I would forge the next link in that chain, but that fear evaporated in the first moments of his life on this earth and while his sister later brought her own challenges (how could someone so tiny be so insanely defiant I used to wonder as she would glare up at me, no higher than my knees it seemed, and tell me 'no' for hours on end), I kept coming back to Freshman Orientation at Dad's College: Help Them Do Well and Be Happy.

I've since discovered, as have probably all fathers, it is pretty easy (especially in hindsight) and not unlike the lesson of Dad's College. You can't do too much about the skinned knees or the first true loves that break hearts but tell yourself, and your child, 'this, too, shall pass' because you know it will even when they know it won't. All you can wish for your son or daughter, is that they are well and happy-two conditions for which they, themselves are most responsible. I used to fret that their father, unlike the parents of their friends, couldn't afford cars for them to drive in high school, or ski holidays or wardrobes from A & F, wasting so much of my energy on pointless worry since both of them grew up never missing what they never had.

Today, Father's Day 2009, both of our children are adults with lives very much their own and have more or less accepted that in the heart of their dotty Dad they will always be his kids. And should the day come when they choose to have children, I think (or hope) they'll have good memories from their own childhood to draw upon and smile.
-bill kenny

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