Friday, June 20, 2014

Love and a Father's Dignity

I learned something about love.

When my sons were born, I realized (as many people do) that love makes doing even the most distasteful things (like chaging a diaper) not only possible but even pleasant -- at least insofar as doing these things brings a certain cool selflessness to the act; and the only reward is (and for me, it was an absurdly major reward) seeing your child walk or crawl off, comfortable and clean. It wasn't until having children that I learned what it really means to think of someone else first. Corny, but true.

One becomes eager to change diapers. Odd, but true. At least, it was for me. (Not that I wasn't grateful when Grandmom or Grammy offered to take one for the team.)

I have been back, a few times, on this blog, to the literal decline and fall of my own father -- his dementia and, ultimately, his passing away some six months ago, and I remembered a bit of an epiphany I had during all of that.

Albert Beirdstadt
At one point, my mother had surgery and couldn't really get around well. When I was over at their place, my dad needed to take a shower. At that point, he couldn't do it without help and he also needed a hand in dressing himself. My mother, obviously, couldn't do it for awhile.

It was up to me.

I had, many times, thought of this moment with dread. I had, many times, thought that to be a man reduced to needing someone to help him get washed and dressed might be the most horrible thing imaginable.

But, it was up to me, so I helped my dad with his bath and I helped him to get dressed afterward.

Guess what? It wasn't so bad. It didn't feel much different than helping my kids. I won't lie and say it didn't feel a little weird, but it also felt natural: the kind of "natural" one can only feel when one is helping a loved one with something necessary.

I think many men make the mistake of thinking that their children (especially their sons) will lose respect for them for losing physical and mental strength, even when those losses are beyond control. It just isn't so -- especially when they are beyond control.

It's not that a father can't lose a son's respect. But if that happens, it is a result of conscious choices. But a father can't be blamed for losing his strengths any more than a child can be blamed for not being able to talk or change his own diaper.

Turns out, despite that party-line and hackneyed nature of the idea, love is, after all, pretty damned powerful.

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