I walked in and sat down at a round table with two gentlemen. It was evening time and everyone was finishing up their desserts – mandarin oranges with cool whip. I struck up a conversation with the man sitting across from me. The other one didn’t say much. His head sagged and he struggled to bring it up to negotiate the food into his mouth. Out of the blue, he put his spoon down and asked, “have you heard this song?” He began singing,
“I was born almost ten thousand years ago,
And there’s nothin’ in the world that I don’t know;
I saw Peter, Paul and Moses,
And I’m here to lick the guy that says ’tain’t so.”
Here in the local assisted living center, it felt a bit like some of the residents may have been born 10,000 years ago. Yet, as I chatted with various seniors, it became clear that there really was little in the world they didn’t know! The more I listened, the more I came to see them not just as old people in a nursing home, but as fatherly figures, not unlike my own grandpa. From the stories they told and the lives they lived they gave me new perspectives on what it means to be a father.
Fatherhood requires faith.
I am in awe of the variety of struggles represented by this relatively small population. John had 3 children. The oldest was adopted and struggled with mental and physical health issues. Ed’s wife had gotten pregnant three times, but all three ended in miscarriage, leaving them childless. Frank never married and has had a terrible relationship with his own father. Christopher’s grown son had passed away from cancer.
Being a father is not just the cheery idyllic picture of a man playing catch with his boy. Fatherhood is complex. It requires men who believe in sacrificing to put their families first. Fatherhood requires men willing to try and have children despite the potential for heartache. It requires men who believe they can be better fathers tomorrow than they were today.
Being a father takes work and worry.
One resident, Tom, described living in the ghetto of L.A. He said it was a dangerous area with gang violence and crime. On many occasions he had to physically protect his children against would-be attackers. One day he got a knock on his door. Upon opening it he found two young girls on his door step. He asked if he could help them and they quickly responded, “will you be our grandpa?!” He was surprised and asked why. They then explained that they often were scared and needed someone to protect them. They had recognized that he was not just a biological dad, he was also a protector and a provider. He was a father.
Being a father is the best.
Despite the worry and the heartache, the men I spoke to believed that being a father was the best. When asked what it was like to hold his first child in his arms Christopher said, “there is nothing like it.” Reminiscing about their lives, they could have told me about their careers or fun vacations, but they chose to tell me about their children and grandchildren. For them, that was what mattered most. And I reckon they would lick the guy that says ’tain’t so.”
Erin Facer is a graduate of Brigham Young University and proud southerner. Arranging flowers, perusing through old documents and spreading peanut butter on celery stalks are a few things that make her glad to be alive. Contact: Facererin@gmail.com