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Honoring Our Fathers

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Copyright © 1995 by George A. Parks

This article appeared in the June 1995 issue of M.E.N. Magazine
 

 

Related:

A Ritual for my Father

A Tree for My Father

On the Anniversary of My Father's Death

As I write these words, near Mother’s Day 1995, I am struck by how differently we in this culture feel about our mothers compared to our fathers. I grieve over how little we honor our dads on Father’s Day compared to how attentively and lovingly we honor our moms on Mother’s Day. In 1990, 145 million Mother’s Day cards were sold and only 90 million Father’s Day cards. More long distance calls are made on Mother’s Day than on any other day of the year, and yet, it is relativelxy easy to get through to dad by phone on Father’s Day, if one cares to try. I am not saying that our mothers do not deserve our attention, affection, and regard, but do our fathers deserve so much less?
  We live in a society without a positive image of the father or of men in general for that matter. Most of what we read, hear, and see in the media concerns the immature or shadow father who will not pay child support, who is absent, who is a workaholic, who is unfaithful, who is a wife batterer, who is an alcoholic or drug addict, or who abuses or molests his children. It is as if we have collectively come to believe that all that is male or masculine including fathers is ridiculous, toxic, or evil. Rarely do we hear stories about the sacrifices of fathers, the teaching of fathers, the affection of fathers, or the devotion and loyalty of fathers. Surely most fathers try to father well, but in our society today it is difficult to know what it means to be a good father and even more difficult to be one with all the economic, social, and emotional pressures that challenge most men who are fathers.
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The Other Father

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Tributes to Our Fathers

This father wound cuts deep into our souls as daughters and sons during childrhood and later in adulthood. And what of the father, how does he feel when his children call home only on Mother’s Day, but not on Father’s Day, or when mom receives a card on Mother’s Day and he does not get one on Father’s Day. How does the father feel when society at large condemns males and masculinity? How does he feel about the lack of acknowledgment of those men who are healthy, mature, and loving? How does he feel when those men who father well are not honored? While most of us as sons and daughters have a father wound, but we also probably have wounded fathers. If the father is wounded, if he feels pain, grief, or even anger, how can he express it, with whom can the father share his wound? If your father is anything like mine, usually, no one.
A Dad Thing
The thin brass nozzle
now stained green
is the one that watered
my dad's gatrden.
Continuing
with a drip-like leak,
I have no call
to put a washer in
to keep my meaty hands dry.
He is dead and I can water
any damn way I please.
     T.A. Delmore
As the patriarchy in America crumbles and its power over us erodes; we are in danger of falsely identifying all that is male or masculine with the undeniable abuses of patriarchal power and privilege. I believe we must reject the abuses of the patriarchy with its sexism and male chauvinism. However, I also believe we must comb the smoldering ashes of the destructive patriarchal fires for the positive aspects of fathering, of men, and of masculinity that are there to be salvaged and recycled. Not doing so leads to absurd claims like those who maintain that to strengthen men and masculinity is to necessarily demean and endanger women, children, and the planet. I ask you, who will embody the principles and character we need to confront the immature and shadow aspects of the patriarchal system if not empowered men and women? To this end, strong, mature, and courageous men are a generative gift to us all.
Other Men's Stories:

December 4, 1984

My Father's Hand

Dad and Apple Pie

Remembering Pops

Pop's Farm

A Ritual for my Father

This year my father turned 80 years old and I, his son, will be 46 just a few days after Father’s Day 1995. I am his first born and I have been with him over half of his life. Like most fathers and sons, our relationship has had its ups and downs. During childhood I can remember having mixed feelings about him. He was at times tender, nurturent, and patient and at other times demanding, critical, and angry. I felt cared for by him and he taught me a great deal about work, about ideas, and about life. Unfortunately, he also hurt me when he fought with my mother, when he drank too much, and when he was abusive in his attempts to teach and to discipline. As a result, I both loved and hated him as a boy. However, no matter what the quality of our relationship at a given time, I always felt bonded to him whether I liked it or not.

Since my middle thirties, we have come closer together, but in sharing the ordeal of the death of my brother and in sharing our grief over the death of his wife, my mother; we are now closer than ever. There is something about grief that breaks the heart open and allows greater love for those who remain. He is capable and willing to share his love for me and I am willing to love him as he is and to forgive him for all that is past. I also have asked and received his forgiveness for all that I did to hurt him and my mother for what I perceived as their neglect or abuse of me when I was a boy. One thing I will always be grateful for is his loyalty. Now matter what stupid and destructive things I did in my angry acting out, he always stood by me and never lost faith in me.

Copper Tree
On Saturday mornings we carried the acrid-scented lengths
of copper pipe to his pickup in the Supply lot.
My father bought a bag of fittings, elbows and t-joints,
a yard of emery paper, flux and solder. At the site
I polished the inside surface of the female ends, holding
in my mind a vague image of a different coupling,
cut the pipe to his order and laid the pieces out.
He worked with pencil, chalk, a snap-line
and scraps of paper, or just wrote on the two-by-fours
through which the joined pipes would run.
Numbers he spoke mostly to himself took shape;
lighting a cigarette, he soldered the joints, wiping up
the drip of silvered metal because he wanted his work
always to be clean.

Our work together was our time together.
We ate our lunch beneath the branches of the copper tree
rising from the basement of a house without walls.
I melted down chunks of lead in an iron basin
over the roaring propane tank to seal the heavy junctures
of the sewage pipes, helped him lift into trenches
the cold terra cotta and the galvanized steel.
He taught me the correct way to cut a pipe and clean it,
how to handle the heavy ladle of hot lead.

I passed by heart
the first test of water running in the pipes
and memorized the necessity of his skill and labor
on those chilly mornings, of making ends meet.
     Ted Gilley
This poem was submitted to us at the suggestion of Robert Bly.

As we approach this Father’s Day 1995 I have been asking myself how can I honor my father? In my musing about this, I have come up with six things I am either already doing or intend to do:

1. Give my relationship with him consideration and attention. I am giving renewed attention to my boyhood and to the father of my youth. I am reliving all those father stories I told at men’s gatherings in the context of the father stories I heard from other men. Finally, I am trying to look honestly at the relationship he and I have today.

2. Remember and name the wounds I received from him as a boy. I am paying special attention to those experiences with my father that were the most frightening, painful, and disappointing. Michael Meade has said that where the curse of my father wounds me most deeply, is a place in me, as his son, that was longing for a blessing. I want to look at those wounds again and better understand why they hurt me so much. I am gradually shifting my attitude from the father wound inflicted upon me as a boy, to the chosen wound that I am responsible for as a man. The disabilities and vulnerabilities of those wounds are mine, not his. I am trying to carry them well.

3. Try to walk a mile in his shoes by imaging what life and fatherhood have been like for him. My dad has told me many stories of his childhood, of his life as a adult before he married my mother, and of the early years of their marriage. I have always loved those stories. This year I will revisit those stories and ask him to tell me some of them again. I will try to identify with his life, his ordeals and joys, and his views of how a man is suppose to live and to father.

4. Begin to see the blessings hidden deep in my father wound, to forgive him, and express my gratitude for being his son. Each year I harvest more and more blessing from those places where I felt cursed by my father in my youth. I now know that none of these wounds was malicious although this is not true of everyone’s father wound. Each year I also see how much we are alike and how many of his qualities I want to emulate or even absorb from the marrow of my bones.

5. To acknowledge him more this year on Father’s Day than ever before. I will send him a card, but this year I will also write him a letter. I will call him on Father’s Day and keep on talking beyond the impasses and awkward moments until I am satisfied that we have really made contact. Finally, I am committed to continue to make greater efforts all year long, not just on Father’s Day, to keep in touch with him, to seek his advice and counsel, and to offer him any support he may need as his life nears its final act.

6. To join with men, women, and children in a public ceremony honoring our fathers and spirit of fathering in all men. I am helping to coordinate and will attend a Father’s Day gathering to be held in Seattle.

In 1991, a man from the New York Men’s Council named Harvey Rosenberg had the vision for a national honoring of fathers in a ritual he called, “Drums Across America.” The first of these nationally coordinated events took place in several cities throughout the United States on June 16, 1991. A second Father’s Day gathering was held in Seattle in June 1992 and possibly other cities, although we in Seattle did not coordinate our efforts that year with other communities. In 1993, Seattle M.E.N. sponsored Daniel Bayes Deardoff in a Father’s Day concert called “Finding The Father.” This year, we at Seattle M.E.N. are sponsoring a local Father’s Day celebration on Sunday, June 15th.

My Dad's Hands

Brown, strong, and clean
My dad's hands
Bring babies into the world,
Feeling in the dark for pain and growth:
Slap new life awake

Veined, rough, and chapped
My dad's hands
Pour scotch and sodas
Reaching for medication of old pains:
Hold new life away.

Quick, arrogant, and angry
My dad's hands
Grab and frighten me
Shaking me into fear:
New life withdraws.

Silent, firm, and soft
My dad's hands
Hold mine
Touching pain, inviting growth:
Respect for life between men.

Purple, cracked, and swollen
My dad's hands
Move slowly now
Trying to hold what can't be held:
Life, love, and loosing.

His hands support and protect
Sustaining life. In my
Father's hands l can risk
To grasp:
Nothing lost in loving life.
    Bill Kelly

It is particularly fitting that a Father’s Day celebration be held in Seattle, Washington because the idea to create a day honoring fathers began in Washington. A Spokane woman by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd originated the idea for Father’s Day while listening to Mother’s Day sermon in 1909. She had been raised by her father, Henry Jackson Smart, after her mother died. It was her father that made all the parental sacrifices and was, in the eyes his daughter, a courageous, selfless, and loving man. Sonora’s father was born in June, so she chose June 19, 1910 to hold the first Father’s Day celebration in Spokane, Washington.

In 1926, a National Father’s Day Committee was formed in New York City. While Mother’s Day was recognized by a Joint Resolution of Congress in 1914, the same honor wasn’t given by the congress to fathers until 1956. In 1972, President Richard Nixon established a permanent national observance of Father’s Day to be held on the third Sunday of June. So Father’s Day was born from the grief and gratitude of a daughter who thought that her father and other good fathers should be honored with a special day just like we honor mothers on Mother’s Day.

How will you honor your father on this Father’s Day? What obstacles do you face in order to be able to honor him? I believe that working with our father wounds and with our wounded fathers is a necessary part of our psychological growth because our relationship with him like that with our mothers has been internalized. As Robert Bly has said, there is a room inside where our fathers live. What does your father’s room look like? Who is the father inside who lives there? What is quality of your relationship with this inner father?

For better or for worse, our fathers live inside us as our first image of men and of the masculine. Our inner relationship with our father will persist for the rest of our lives whatever the nature of our social relationship with him. It will influence our sense of identity, our intimate relationships, and all our relationships with men especially those in positions of power and authority . I feel, when we can honor our fathers, we can more deeply honor ourselves. So the act of honoring our fathers may be as important and healing for us as it is for him.

Beyond the influence we feel within by honoring our fathers, if we chose to honor him in some way that he can perceive, it may be a blessing to him and perhaps an answer to ancient desire that he and other fathers have felt. In a poem by Robert Bly called “Finding The Father” there is an image of being called by your body to search for your father who is longing for you and who is waiting for you in a candle lit room to come to him and to know him. When I first heard Robert read this poem, I wept and I began a long journey to find my father, inside and out.

Many men and some women have helped me in my journey to find my father. Now I come to him, I honor him and love him and in doing so I give him food for his soul and the attention and affection he deserves. I know he appreciates it. He said recently that when it comes to our relationship, he feels very sentimental. By that, I think he means, there is a lot of feeling between us. In some ways, as I grow older and he enters old age, I feel more like his brother and hope that if and when I am a father, that his grandchildren will experience in me, their father, some of the blessings I have receive from being his son.

Like many, if not most, American men and women, my bonding with my father has come late in life, in my forties. Even as I have found my father, I know I will lose him again. It seems my father love has always been bittersweet with affection mixed with ambivalence and grief. I have been told that when he is gone, a road will open for me with new possibilities. I both dread and long for that day. So I am trying to balance my new found love for him with a gradual weaning of my dependence on him. I know as a man I must look to my brothers and mentors for the continued support and guidance that I need.

George A. Parks, Ph.D. is the former Program Director for Seattle M.E.N. and is a co-founder and former facilitator of the Seattle Men’s Wisdom Council. George conducts a private counseling practice specializing in therapy with men and with couples. He can be reached at (206) 364-1995.

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Related stories:

Articles

Honoring our Father, by George A. Parks

The Other Father, by Daniel Deardorff

A Tree for My Father, by Tom Golden

On the Anniversary of My Father's Death, by Tom Golden

The Fathers I Found in the Woods, by Donald Davidson

Men: Our Stories

December 4, 1984, by James Dolan

A Ritual for my Father by Bert H. Hoff

My Father's Hand, by R. "On-the-Road Coyote" Prosapio

Dad and Apple Pie by Keith Artz

Remembering Pops by Daniel Lorey

Pop's Farm, by Dan Frizzell

Poems

Father comes into the living room ..., by Chris Aune

My Dad's Hands, by Bill Kelly

Copper Tree, by Ted Gilley

A Dad Thing, by T.A. Delmore

Late for Thanksgiving Dinner, by Thomas R. Smith


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