Sunday, September 22, 2013

Shoulders



I stand here in front of you as you sit in the swing enjoying the soft breeze of the mid-September afternoon. You are blissfully unaware I'm blocking the blinding rays from your eyes with my shadow. My shoulders are wide enough to eclipse the sun in your lane and allow you to enjoy the last drops of a cool fall day unperturbed by the glaring orange disc behind me. At a year and half, your biggest problem at the moment is retrieving the last dried strawberry from the bag you clutch in your tiny hands. I know how high I can push without frightening you and I keep you moving with the slow, steady consistency of a pendulum easily metered by the repetitious whine of metal on metal which is interrupted only by the drone of traffic. You have no fear of the unknown and therefore no appreciation for the safety I provide. Inconceivable events of earth, wind and fire would have to conspire before I allowed you to fall from the swing; so you sway and you smile with fiery intensity of your own. Your blue eyes gleam like sapphires as you laugh and squeal. I shoulder the weight of your safety as you learn to keep yourself from harm. When we leave the park you'll ride the same shoulders and we'll stroll home enjoying the city's sounds, sights and smells in the twilight of the day and the season.

Any mortal in their right mind would be terrified to be hoisted three times their own height atop a giant, but you know nothing of fear. You've never fallen from such a height, as a matter of fact, you've never fallen from any height within my reach. The piece I have trouble with is teaching you actions have consequences without diminishing your intrepid spirit. How do I teach you without scaring you? I want you take on faith that the slide curving away below you is well worth the ride, even though you can't see the end from your vantage point. The moment of uncertainty when you let go is what makes that ride all the sweeter, but too much doubt can hold you back. You are already assembling a respectable collection of bruises on your shins and bumps on your head, but the blades which will cut deepest are years in the distance. I see them coming, as inevitable as the end of this afternoon. No need to mention them, we'll have plenty of time for that. I have faith in the time. Time won't let me down.

Will it?

My hope as a father is to remedy all that ails my children. To protect you at all times from all dangers both real and perceived, while teaching you to do the same for yourself along the way. There will be time for that, the shadows will grow much longer before mine fades to black. The truth is, I think I'm doing OK at this dad thing. I had some good teachers; I stand on the shoulders of giants. Perhaps I'm getting too deep into metaphor, even for me, but when it comes to the stories of our fathers sometimes only clich├ęs will do. My Dad is a great father, as was his. I rode on his shoulders when I was your age, I enjoyed their shade when I was swinging, and I cried into them when life seemed unfair. My father taught me how to stand on his shoulders literally, then with his love and support I learned the far more difficult task of standing on those shoulders figuratively.

It is not the piggyback rides along Myrtle Beach that come to mind when I think of those shoulders, but the times they carried me through the rough patches in my life. I was blissfully unaware of the diligent protection when I was younger. I had little experience with fear; security was a gift I didn't know I had been given. My father was there when a "big kid" pushed me off a big wheel, he was there to reassure me when I was faced with losing my place as the one and only child, he was there when I struggled with self-esteem in junior high and he taught me not to define myself with the expectations and judgments of others. When I was attacked by a bully on the bus for defending my sister he was there to stand up for me when I was nearly suspended for my unfortunate luck. My father taught me about fairness and courage. His ideas of justice were a constant theme in my childhood, running deep like a vein of iron through a mountain range. My dad was there when I didn't make the grade and when I did, he was there as loved ones left this world, there when I struggled in college and there when I searched for a career. He didn't tell me where to go or what to do, but no matter where I turned his shadow always danced ahead even when he was not physically present. My father was there to remind me that my path was my own and no one would or should prepare it for me, he was there when I fell in and out of love, there when I made bad decisions, there when I succeeded at work, there when I lost a good job, there when I was married to your mother. He's been there following the birth of each of my children; always wanting to show support while not wanting to be in the way, giving me space to live and experience life in my own way. There are times these days when my father's shadow isn't as clear to me and we don't talk as often as we should (a shared fault), but when I look a little closer I can usually see his silhouette against the hard sun of life. His shadow hides the danger and in doing so obscures it's own presence. I know when the day comes and the sun sets on my father, the absence of that cool slither of shade will become shockingly clear... blindingly so. I'll squint at the unforgiving sun. I'll hide my eyes in my hands and I'll weep. Afterwards, I suspect I will spend years realizing the full myriad of ways he protected, supported and encouraged me. I stand on the shoulders of my Dad; as he did on his.

As I continue down the path of fatherhood, I enjoy the satisfaction of knowing my shadow will grow longer and provide respite from the cruel elements for those I love the most. I don't say that out of pride for myself, but pride in all of us. It gives me a peaceful, reassuring feeling to know you, my helpless little boy, will one day cast an epic shadow indeed. You will stand against the sun and the wind and the rain; a rock upon which those who love you can make anchor and against those who would harm your loved ones will break themselves.

The amazing thing is how much growth you and your sister have precipitated within me as well. That thought makes me happy as I try to conceptualize how my father grew with me. In our family we are sustaining each other and laying the foundation for the future with every laugh and every tear. Now our shadows lengthen as we walk home with the sun at our backs and you, my son, on my back. I have to wonder whose shadow stretches ahead of us leading us home.

11 comments:

  1. Amazing post Eric. You can tell that this is from the heart of a dad that really gets it. You can tell that you are a great dad and would do anything for your children.

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  2. Unfair. That post was too damn good.

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  3. Nicely done sir. Nicely done indeed.

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  4. Lovely. And wonderful you have such positive and wonderful thoughts about your own dad. So few do these days, it seems.

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  5. This was great, Eric. And all over the place, metaphors that made me go, "yeah, that's RIGHT!" There's something both subtle and powerful, and also ubiquitous, about the central one - acting as a human shield to shade a little from the sun. And that last moment, with your own son at the peak of the shadow, on your shoulders just as you've stood on the shoulders of others . . . really beautiful, and poignant. Stuff worth thinking about here.

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  6. Thank you, I have to admit having a little help focusing my metaphors from Brian Sorrell of Dadding Full Time. He pointed out some mixed metaphors and helped me discover what I really wanted to do . Thanks for stopping by and reading!

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  7. You know, oddly, I thought it was strong stuff when I wrote it. A day later, I hated it. Then I spoke with Brian who helped me with a few things and I kind of sort of liked it. Then when I reread it this morning... I was back to being really proud of it.

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  8. I appreciate you stopping by!

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  9. Thank you, Chris, also thanks for the shares!

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  10. I loved this post, you described what it means to be a father (and a son) in such a beautiful manner here.

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  11. Thank you, Jonathan!

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