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Fatherhood: Valleys & Mountains
Fatherhood is about valleys and mountains. The National Center for Fathering indicates that over 60% of adults have unresolved issues with their fathers. The study also showed that the highest level of satisfaction fathers had with their children were when they were in pre-school, and the lowest was during the teen years.
Fatherhood has changed significantly over the years, especially since our fathers were children. The women’s liberation movement had a lot to do with that.
Fathers once identified as the primary providers, breadwinners or disciplinarians have now had their roles changed. In a more industrialized dual-incomed society, fathers today have had to understand, accept, and adapt to a role change, which for some fathers has resulted in fathers becoming the principal nurturer in the family. The whole idea of early bonding that eluded many of our fathers has become a virtue many of today’s fathers work hard at reaching. Still many fathers still have difficulty accepting the domesticated second shift women assumed decades ago.
The father in the following short story, “Earning their Inheritance,” may be viewed as an atypical image of a father with two sons. Yet not unlike the fathers described by Rohner & Veneziano, fathers today have accepted a certain androgyny, and are seen with traits not unlike those attributed to mothers years ago. Moreover, for some fathers, like the one in this short story, fatherhood might be seen as the “rougher side of motherhood.”
This short story highlights both valleys and mountains a father may experience raising children, especially sons.
Earning Their Inheritance
There was a father who had two sons. They were a loving family, and the father watched them grow as strong as the oak trees they helped him prune. The father watched them bloom as the flowers in the garden he tended, watering and fertilizing them exactly when they needed. The only things he loved more than the trees on his land, the flowers in his yard, or the mother of his sons, were his sons.
When their mother had died when they were small, he was overwhelmed. He had loved her like a queen. He worked hard to make sure the family had all it needed, a roof over its head, food on the table, while his wife worked to make sure there was love in every crevice of the home provided by the man she had married and swore to never leave.
When she died he was almost devastated. But in her honor, he survived. In her honor, he took care of the flowers. In her honor, he took care of her sons. In her honor, he worked hard to make sure the boys would always remember her, but above all, remember they were her sons too.
The boys grew in stature. Try as best he could, he knew he could not replace their mom. He knew that, so he didn’t try, but rather he did what he could do. He simply provided for them, loved them, and tried to teach them.
He taught them many things. He taught them to trust each other. He taught them to laugh at each other. He taught them to love each. And as if a gift had been given to him from his wife, each night before he went to bed he could see a part of him he’d never seen before. As he watched his sons grow, he too grew. Indeed, he received more than he ever could give them. When they needed nurturing, he nurtured. When they needed to be corrected, he corrected. When they needed compassion, he reached far beneath his own nature and was as compassionate a teacher, as he was a learner. Even in her death, his wife had given him a consummate gift he’d never have gained in her lifetime. That saddened him that he had overlooked the pleasures of family with the pressures of work. That saddened him that he’d overlooked the days tranquil days of togetherness, now replaced by the hallow days of being alone. But at least he’d learned, and tried to teach his sons.
And then a day came he’d dreaded. His older son had dreaded it too, but it seemed the time was right that he should leave his father and seek the challenges of the world on his own. It was a sad day. His father knew he couldn’t keep it from happening. He could only hope that he’d prepared him for those challenges. As sad as the day was going to be the father was comforted by the thought he would still have one son at home with him. But before those thoughts could be translated into words the father saw restlessness in the eyes of his other son. The father knew it would happen, but so soon, so swift, so unerringly sharp the quickness of this sharp truth.
He’d worked hard to raise them well. By most regards, he was a good man. But before he would allow his sons’ paths to be darkened by the weakness of an aging man he resolved he still had one more gift to give them.
He fixed dinner for them on the night they had planned to leave. He had had many conversations at this table; resolved many of the problems few men have a dad around to help with. They’d felt his tenderness through the time, and compassion this father had given. And so he measured his last gift to them.
He gave each a sum of money. It was the same amount of money. And on the anniversary of this gift, he told them they were to give him half of whatever they earned. He would, he promised them, give them an additional sum of money based on whatever they had given him. It didn’t matter to this dad what they’d earned, he just wanted to share and be a part of their individual spirits, their labors, their harvest, most of all--their lives.
So at the end of each year he’d give them according to what they had earned. Each year was different; one year one son would go farther and earn more than the other earned, and so the father would give that son more the next year as he’d promised he would. The next year, invariably the other son would travel a greater distance, reach a higher level, and as a result be rewarded with a larger reward by his father. It was good for the father to see them each year, and each year their father would talk more about what they had learned, as opposed to what they’d earned. Each year the father would keep his promise. He would give according to what they had earned, hoping next year the lesson might be over, and he would again watch his sons, go their separate ways.
Finally, as their dad grew older, and though they had children of their own, the brothers noticed that the questions were always the same. Years had passed. Their dad’s hair had grayed and thinned. The oak trees they played on reached closer to the sky than they had ever remembered, but the questions were always the same. Somewhere along the way, it was as though they couldn’t grasp this lesson that seemed so important to their father.
One year his sons decided to change things. This particular year they asked that instead of having their dad cook dinner, could they take him out to eat. Independent still at his age, he had surprised with a concession, only if they agreed to meet him at a restaurant he and their mom had favored. His sons agreed, they met and ate. Yet still, they reported what they’d done. And after they reported about their respective years, came the question they had discussed before he arrived.
“Tell me what you have learned.”
As was generally the case, the younger son spoke first,
“I find many of my ideas are good, but I have difficulty coming up with ideas, and it’s only after listening to my brother am I able to really see what I can do.”
After listening to his younger brother, the father heard his other son say
“I get all kinds of creative ideas but have no idea of how to focus myself on how to get them to work until I listen to my brother’s carefully executed plan.”
“And?” the father asked, smiling as if realizing perhaps his plan had indeed worked.
“I learned…” the younger brother started
“WE! Learned,” the older brother interrupted, and the younger brother deferred, “that we can learned as much from each other as we can learn from the world.”
“Good!” was all their father said, and keeping his promise he again gave according to what each had done. But he was excited at what they’d learned and was anxious to hear about it the next year.
The following year they met in the hospital. The day before the long awaited anniversary with their dad, the brothers found out their dad had had a heart attack. T
The brothers were together when the call came because they had seen each other a lot that year. They had gotten to know each other better. The competition was gone. Most of their insecurities had vanished. They had grown to like each other more, and were happier than they could remember. They’d also earned more than they had in all the previous years combined since they’d left home.
The brothers got their families together more and enjoyed the love that had come into the lives of these brothers whose dad had finally taught them to share all they had with each other. They were excited to tell their dad about what they’d learned, yet saddened by the reality it had taken them so long. And even more saddened that their father’s gift perhaps had taken more of a toll on him than they’d realized.
Before he even asked, his older son excitedly told his father that he and his brother had earned more than they had in all the years since they’d left to meet life’s challenges. Amazed, life crept into their father’s pallid face. Forcing himself to sit up in his bed, he asked them what they had done differently.
The younger brother replied, “We became brothers. We listened, and simply helped each other. We stopped competing against ourselves and each other to find favor in your eyes and the eyes of others.”
The father’s smile covered his face. His eyes, at first dimly lit, now glimmered with peace and understanding as he told them,
“Today I give you the rest of riches, the things I have earned. Yet nothing can compare to what you have given me today. You earned your inheritance I know now you have each other. That’s all your mom and I ever wanted.”
With a smile on his face, a tear on his cheek, he clasped each son’s hand in his one frail hand, and then he closed his eyes.