Friday, March 11, 2011

The Father of the Man

One night, we were watching old family videos. One section of footage, originally shot on an old 8mm camera on a hot summer day in Philadelphia, circa 1968, would bring me to tears.
There was me, just learning to walk, in dark shorts, white shoes and a striped shirt, face surrounded by a reddish-brown, curly mop of hair. The sunlight in my tiny heart -- as in the hearts of all babies -- was more than a match for the light that shone off of the car fenders and windows of the row-homes.
My mother helped me to stand, holding my hands high as I faced away from her, and when I mustered the courage, I would waddle away, about six steps, into the waiting arms of my uncle, and then turn for the return journey.
My father, following with the camera, would pull in close to my face and zoom out by turns to show me either concentrating or walking. In the wide shots, my feet slapped the grey pavement like a duck’s.
When I would reach a destination, my face would glow with pride, eyes wide. My mother and uncle cheered -- though, voicelessly, owing to the old, soundless camera -- and so would I, clapping chubby hands gleefully and receiving rapid-fire kisses on the cheeks as a reward.
Before long, the camera drew in close to my face as I reclined in my mother’s lap on the step outside my grandfather’s butcher’s shop. I sat content, head softly resting on her arm, one thumb in my mouth, wide brown eyes reflecting motion in the busy city streets.
My dad held this shot for longer than expected. But I understand: he was preserving a moment. He was documenting a series of minutes that he knew would be otherwise forgotten among the myriad and seemingly more important events that would follow it. This image of who I once was was a gift for the future, but it was also a great challenge.
As I looked at my own innocent eyes and at a face that was pure and free of ambition, pride, animosity or any other negative notion; at a little boy alive just to experience the things around him, my heart panicked, and tears came. That little fellow deserved so much. I owed him a perfection I could never possibly achieve. I wondered if my lifetime had done him honor -- this child, who was so intrinsically superior to the man I had become, in every way.

I have thought about that day ever since; I have struggled to become more like the boy I was, every day, since. If I could go back and meet him face-to face, I'd tell him that I'm sorry, but that I'm trying. I'm really trying

Maybe the child is both the father and measure of the man, in the end. Maybe all of our prideful intellectual growth is just the same as stepping away from the sunlight in which we once walked; that our own inner glow once made look like a gloomy fog, by comparison.

But there's no quitting. Not for Wordsworth, and not for me:

My heart leaps when I behold
     A rainbow in the sky:
So it was when life began;
So it is now that I am a man;
So be it when I grow old,
     Or let me die!
The Child is the father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by piety.

William Wordsworth, 1807.


  1. This is another really well written, spot on post Mr. Matt the really weird thing is when i started reading it I was listening to my Ipod and the song Inner Glow by Blue October came on. It was both inspirational and weird all at the same time.


  2. Thanks ,Phil. Glad you liked it -- I'm sure the soundtrack helped!