Walking A New Road

Naturally enough, every year when Father’s Day comes around, I am reminded of my Dad. He belonged to a generation of men who smoked in the hospital waiting room while their wives delivered babies by themselves, men who would never change a diaper or be a Girl Scout Cookie Mom. How different my father was.

My sister and I received all sorts of attention from him that was rare from fathers in the fifties. He heated my bottle over a trashcan of kindling during a hurricane that knocked out the power; he made us breakfast on school days; he carpooled with my friends’ mothers for our play rehearsals and riding lessons. He was an unusual Dad.

But quite suddenly, six years after his death, Father’s Day is transformed, as another man in my life takes up the mantle of fatherhood. Now, I will be making that special phone call to my son, who became a first-time father just shy of a year ago.

It has been both enlightening and heart-warming to see the way he steps boldly into the challenges of parenting my first grandchild, just as his own grandfather did. My son’s journey began when–as his own father had done
thirty-three years before–he stayed by his wife’s side during her labor, supporting her as best as any man can support a woman during such a stressful event. Together, they welcomed their child into the world. Together, they learned how to warm formula and sterilize bottles. Together, they tackled the conundrum of how to get a fussy baby to sleep.

When they all came to visit for the first time, I found a new opportunity to join together with him, and it was a profound experience. He was in the midst of bonding with his son, and somehow the emotions involved in becoming a parent allowed him to open up to me in a different way.

Every day of his vacation with us, he got up at six for my grandson’s first morning bottle, while I, being a good Dog Mom, got up to let the Dals out and feed them. I then brought mugs of coffee up to my grandson’s room and he and I took turns giving him a bottle, reading him books he mostly put in his mouth, singing songs, and–at our most recent visit over Memorial Day weekend–walking a bit behind him to catch any bumps that might occur as he navigated through his first precarious cruises around the room. In between all this, we had plenty of time for talking. And by that I do not mean passing-the-time-of-day conversation.

Instead, we discussed our family, with all its inevitable push-pull of emotion, its demands and its gifts. He told me about his job and how it fulfills him. He spoke of his “plan” for his family’s future. He asked me about the difficulty of the move to Maryland, and my current book, and the first friend I had made here. We shared our worlds, just as we shared our delight in the child crawling over our knees.

During these peaceful morning hours, I was also overjoyed to find that my son wanted me to share memories of a time that I hold very dear indeed: his first year as a baby. His wealth of questions brought back my own motherhood and its tidal wave of love. “When did I get my first tooth?” “When did I first roll over?” “When could I hold a sippy cup on my own?” And perhaps, most important of all, “When did I sleep through the night?”

As a result of his introduction to parenthood, he has grown even softer and warmer toward me, his feelings undoubtedly enriched by the fierce tenderness he feels for his son. His love of fatherhood and my love of grandmother-hood have united us in a very special way. I, too, have a new and unique role to fulfill.

What kind of parents we had as children largely governs what kind of parents we will eventually be to our own. As was I, my son was lucky enough to have a father who was highly involved in his daily life early on; he had a mirror that reflected a solid image back at him. I have no doubt that he will be both strong and authoritative as a Dad, but also gentle and encouraging–not only because it is deeply in his nature, but also because his father took this approach with him.

I’ve been watching my sons’ friends become parents over the last four or five years now, and have observed that today’s young men have never been stronger or more successful in accepting a nurturing role within their families, just as women have never been more empowered. With this new generation, the family paradigm has shifted. The merging of male and female roles has created a relationship between husbands and wives that is a more deeply felt partnership.

I love being a mother to my thirty-three year old, and being a grandmother to his little one, who is just about to have his first birthday. From now on, Father’s Day will have a dual meaning for me. The sorrow I feel at the loss of my Dad is soothed by the joy of sharing a new world of love with my son–just as he also finds a new world of love with his own. I could not have foreseen, at the time my grandson was born, the entirety of the gift I had received. It appears that I am doubly blessed. Happy Father’s Day to all!


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