For years I have struggled with the effects of injuries sustained in competitive sports. Regardless, being active and engaging in the physicality of fatherhood was always a priority. Touch is love, and the nonverbal life of running, chasing, playing catch, and roughhousing was as important as any words shared with my sons.
When the boys were younger, I couldn’t wait to get home to go out into the field and see what kind of crazy game would develop until darkness. A few things were tried and true: movement, laughter, and objects arcing across the sky—or at each other. Everything else was left to be determined. One such improvisation was the “Jump over me, Dad” game. We would run and at some random time, I would spontaneously leap over the boys’ heads. This was good for fits of laughter for the rest of the evening. Thankfully, in those days I never seemed to tire of the physical demand.
I was a bit late to the Father’s Path by my own yardstick. Just as there is no manual for raising a child, there isn’t a lot of information for raising a child to be a father. If all goes well enough you have in your trusted circle, access to wisdom, someone who will tell you the truth. And while there are really volatile times to enter fatherhood, there are never perfect times. Just as the individual life is so unique, so, too, is the entrance to the Path.
My sons have witnessed the intersection of “late to the Path” and Nature’s inevitable process. I remember my oldest, Justin, doing an impeccable impression of me when he was no more than four. Hunched over, he limped to the fridge for an ice pack, the sounds of a wounded warrior emanating from his soft and supple face. Uncanny! And later, while Evan was still in the phase where he knew what everyone was saying, but has just a few words to communicate, he would run through his line-up of sounds at the dinner table. Melanie would prompt him accordingly: What does a dog say? “Woof!” What does a cat say? “Meow.” What does Daddy say? “Groan.”
This physical aspect of fatherhood fell off the cliff this last summer when I was unable to even walk on the beach. It was time….
On the morning of Monday, January 22nd, the anesthesiologist felt around my lower spine for a place to insert the needle. When he found the sweet spot, I had one brief and final moment to give thanks to my left knee for 57 years of service. Then my lower limbs fell silent, numb and motionless as they maneuvered me to a supine position. The lights went out for a while. And when I awoke my body contained a higher percentage of a group 4 metal, one of a group of elements aptly named “transition metals.”
A Father’s Path has many transitions, some anticipated and others involving periods of mourning, of letting go. While I can no longer jump for joy, the present and the future promise more of an earth-bound sense of happiness. I envision walks on the beach once more with those I love. And, if needed and if I am so blessed, the short explosive steps required to gather a grandchild on the loose. Life, the marathon, truly is about the little things and the small moments. And small steps with the sure footing of knowing where you are heading.