Father's Day is wonderful, and I'm for it. But one Father's Day is not enough. Three are needed -- for the three climates of fatherhood that must be passed through before, weather-beaten but not broken, we can rejoice that God gave fathers the privilege of being co-creators.
Of the three climates -- sunny; cloudy with daily air turbulence and tornado warnings on the weekends; and post-storm balminess -- I know the first best. I've been warming in it for 13 years, since the first of three young males came into our household.
The sunniness of fatherhood when children are young, charming, have short hair and do not yet want their own phones is in having no tougher question to face than "Where did I go right?" This is the period of no-fault fatherhood. Where did I go wrong? is what the strung-out father down the street is asking himself -- he with a 17-year-old son who is Mario Andrette behind the wheel of the family heap and a 21-year-old daughter who has the tastes but not the lineage of an heiress and has been to five colleges in three years. b
I am entering the clouds of this second climate now. With one lad at 13, and his brothers rushing from behind at 12 and 9, I know it's been easy till now. Even the experts on fatherhood have told me so. In "Family Constellations," a sparkling book on how sibling positions shape an individual's personality, Walter Toman, a Viennese-born professor of psychology, writes of my ilk, the youngest brother of brothers: he "is not a conventional father. . . . Sometimes it is clearly more important to him to be understood by his children than to understand them himself. . . . However, often he is also a good companion for his children, and as such he is probably at his best in his role as a father."
If it's been a picnic so far, I can feel the ants crawling onto the blanket when someone accurately assesses the parenthood scene: "The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders. . . . They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and are tyrants over their teachers."
Who is this wracked soul? Socrates, just in with a fresh report on Greek family life in the Golden Age of 2,400 years ago. I have hope that his will be a useful text as I try to keep upright in these next few years of clouds, high winds and tornadoes. It's cheering to know that whatever I will be seeing in this second climate, Socrates braved it too. Not only that, but nothing he saw was so overpowering as to keep him from being a philosopher, the noblest of all crafts. All I do is practice one of the lowest -- putting a few words into the newspaper, which is to philosophy what a shanty is to the Parthenon.
When I ask fathers of the second climate how long it is before the third climate of post-storm balminess arrives. I get mixed answers. If young Mario has just squealed out of the driveway and has floored it to 90 before reaching the light at the corner, I am told "never." Or if the daughter of the house has just done her parents the favor of graduating from college, after trying six of them at $8,000 a year, then the answer might be brighter -- "Oh, half a century or so."
Is it going to be that bad? Once more, a philosopher rides to what looks like an impossible rescue. Mark Twain said, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."
With seven years of learning ahead of me, one safe bet is that not much of it will be book learning. An estimate 300 how-to-parent books have been published in the past 20 years, excluding reprints of Piaget, Montessori, Gesell and Erikson. But most of these are books about how to change an infant's diaper, when the mystery for me is how to change -- and shape and inspire -- an adolescent's mind.
It's not the books that can tell us that -- only other fathers. Which is another reason a few more Father's Day would not hurt: we have a lot to talk about.