• by Robert P. Barsanti •
Several colleagues and I got together this week at the Brotherhood for a “Last Sipper.” We slipped inside in the early evening, before the summer sun was near the horizon and far before the lines had formed at the Juice Bar. A young Spanish teacher intermittently flashed a smile while he fondled his phone. His wife has slowly been swelling throughout the spring and the date was now approaching. So we sat inside at seats that we had sat in many times before, drinking beer we had also had many times before, laughed as we always had and thought of something worthwhile to say.
Which I failed at. Advice is a fool’s game. The longer I live, the more foolish the advice that I was given seems. And the advice that I have handed out seems even more foolish. I told him that “This too shall pass…” as my father used to say. But, two sips of beer and one long moment later, I realized how silly that would sound to a young father. To him, everything is about to change. His past life of guitars and golf clubs wait in the bed of his pick up while the dump looms just in front of him.
I should have told him that this will not be the last sipper. He will join us for many more evenings. Those evenings may pass on his porch, or at a bar, or in a beach chair at Fortieth Pole. The world changes a lot less than we fear; evolutions are enormous and slow. All of the great changes in my life, whether they be marriage, divorce, or children, drip from a leaky pipe into a bucket.
I only notice the bucket when it overflows and soaks the bathroom carpets; all of the drips fell somehow between the third inning and the fourth quarter. Life passes while you are making other plans, then the bathroom floor is soaked. This too shall not pass. Instead it will mildew, warp, and rot. You can check out the upstairs bathroom if you want to be sure.
I have been a father for fourteen years but I don’t really know what the job entails, other than dumping out the pail of dripping water or, conversely, fixing the pipe. At one time, a father imparted knowledge and skills to his children. You taught them how to shoe a horse, how to set a net, or how to rebuild a carburetor. You appeared dirty and smiling at the outer door of the house, cleaning the grease from your hands and still too dirty to come inside.
It’s easy to think that a father’s job is to walk the perimeter. The fathers remain outside the warm secrets and tears that mothers traffic in. The babies don’t know our heartbeat and our smells. The two of them fall asleep on the sofa together while you go out to get the diapers and the wipes. The infants hide behind their mother’s legs before stepping out with an outstretched hand ready to “shake.” Instead, you circle the house and look for intruders. You peer and prepare and make sure the car is gassed up and ready. Everything else is happening inside. She get’s pregnant, her body swells up, something is kicking and punching inside her, and you are the same old you that washed out of college football and has too many extra donuts during break. Nothing seems to happen to you.
Too many men stay out on the perimeter; too many slip into the tree-line, high rough, and deep water while the family builds without them. The danger of walking the perimeter isn’t that something will attack from the dark, but that you walk away from the change within. Just because you can’t catalog the changes in the mirror, doesn’t mean something hasn’t happened.
Instead, your life has changed by a pair of eyes, a pair of ears, and some smooth skin. Someone is always watching; you never know what is going to sink into that little skull. Every thing they feel becomes a little ball of dough that will rise and bake into something deep into their own character. A good father knows this, feels this, and does his best under the constant appreciation of a rapt audience.
Next door, the summer visitors have settled in, opened the refrigerator, and found the charcoal briquets. Under the oceanic blue sky, he flipped the steaks, sipped his beer, and enjoyed the singular pleasure of being a man in full. His German Shepherd puppy was enjoying that as well and in our backyard. So he called “Nala! Come! Goddam it, Come!” His daughter rolled over from her toys, stuck her little head in the hedge and repeated what her father said, word for word, tone for tone.
This too shall pass. My father wouldn’t have yelled at the dog like that, nor would I. But that little girl, twenty years down the line, might. It was a lesson written in sand, then pressed into stone. Nothing that dog could or would do in my backyard would threaten the Republic or cost him a dollar. But I couldn’t say the same for his little girl.
My father, for all of his gifts, left his own legacy. In my youth, he ventured to help me with my golf swing twice. Each time, he said the same thing; “Hands, then hips, Hips, then hands.” As the advice is not particularly useful, I have not become a particularly good golfer. Yet, I have had my moments.
One of those moments came on the ninth hole at Miacomet. I had bested him over the first eight holes, with the power of youth overcoming the wiles of age. Then, as I stood over the ball on the tee, he gave me a small piece of advice: “I think you are hitching your hands at the top of your swing.” I drove into a garage door, he won the hole and the match.
That is the power of fatherhood.