Friday, December 4, 2009


There's a De Niro movie being saturation advertised. About a family that's all right, or fine, or something. Not planning on seeing it. But there's a line, something like, "I just want to be a father to you." He's in his mid 60s, talking to thoroughly adult offspring. And every time I hear it I go through the same internal monologue. Too damn late to be a father.

I'm right, of course. You can't be a father to adult offspring. Notice how I avoided saying adult children. Same reason. Adults aren't children, and when the kids are grown, the fatherhood role is done. There is a role, and I, for example, am a father. But I can't be a father to my son anymore. He has outgrown the need. What the De Niro character means when he says that line, is impossible. There is no undoing the past. No present effort is retroactive. The fatherhood ship has sailed.

There's a way that I'm wrong, but I expect you to get past it. I expect you to see my point, despite the limitations of the vocabulary. It's contained in the question, or the answer, what exactly does the character imagine he can do? What he means is that he wants healthy communication and a loving relationship. He wants forgiveness, and he wants to be understood, even in his failures. If he's wise, he wants to learn what kind of people his children have grown up into. He has a claim on them, inherent in the role, the way our parents can still control us. He has a responsibility to them, no longer of support, but still of integrity and wisdom.

A very little boy recently trotted up to me and asked, how can Jesus be God, and the Son of God. He will have been fed the question, but that he could even remember it was impressive. I said something like, think about your dad -- he's your dad, and he's somebody's son. It's about roles. God will always have a fatherhood role with us. We will always be comparative children. But just as there is no marriage in heaven, there will be no parenthood either. So it seems to me. And here, in this life, parenthood ends, and becomes something else.

What? A deep friendship, I think. A lot of pride, which is a sort of ownership, and a strong remnant of responsibility. Since we are human, there will also be less pure elements -- competition -- a demand for hierarchy, however muted. It will vary from man to man. But we have a right to that, or at least to the feeling. We will, after all, die for them, still. There is obligation even in unsought sacrifice.

I've been listening to the radio again. Got some grunt work to do, and that's what radio is for. When I do cerebral stuff, I can't even listen to music anymore. I think it's an age thing. Same way that I get sore two days after a workout, rather than next day. If I get sore. Same way that I have to hold things about a foot away from my face now, to get a good focus. See? Things change. There's no going back, and there's no re-creating. There's only moving forward, or being stuck, with regret.

Sometimes I think about how very strange this universe is, of God's. Not the death and corruption part. That's on us. The design behind it, where we have to eat, every day just about, for example. That's so strange. This whole metabolism thing. It's so strange. There must be a meaning in it, like there's meaning in seemingly random events in the Bible. It's all symbolic. Food, as a daily reminder of our dependence -- grafted limbs, ensapped by a strong root. Age, as an enforced humility. Death, as interest on a debt already paid, but the transaction isn't quite finalized. It's all about motion, change, experience and transformation.

Not an easy thing, for some of us, who hold on rather than let go. But there it is. It's about trust. Trust for our daily bread. Trust for the safety of our children. Trust that our friends will be faithful. Trust that we will always have a father who guides us as best he can.

Let's not think of it as failure. It's freedom.


1 comment:

ReZnuK said...

I think the fatherhood role is possible and real within adult relationships. It loses an aspect of it's role of course, and it's society that places almost the entire value upon that aspect - that of "raising" the child to adulthood.

But I believe fatherhood is a particular kind of adult relationship where guidance is still given and sought in a way that is not the same as other adult relationships. It involves respect rather than simply friendship. Though that, I think, needs to be there too.

A father who raises a child to adulthood "properly" (i.e. the father has done his job right and the child has co-operated in that regard) will develop an adult relationship that contains friendship, sure, but also respect (primarily I guess from son to father) and care (primarily from father to son).

I am a father to an adult (and three older teenagers as it happens) and I feel the care for my son, who is still my son, though an adult in his own right. And I believe (from his behaviour) that I receive his respect. It's *not* about authority or domination (which I'm sure some people could read 'respect' as), but about what the formerly dependent relationship matures into.

My eldest son doesn't need to come to me and ask my permission about anything. But he still comes to me to ask my advice.

In the deNiro case (or that of an absent father who re-appears in a persons life), I would have to say they have done nothing to merit/earn the father-son relationship, and so can not expect anything other than a more casual 'adult friendship'. To ask for more (than you've earned) is selfish and greedy (although if given freely should be treasured).