Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Spell Father's Day R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Father's Day

Two friends and I drove Highway 41 yesterday to Ravinia, where Garrison Keillor did his usual magical job of unveiling the sacred in ordinary life.

There's a lot of ambivalence in that. Keillor's fathers and other heroes always fall short of some marks, but when it counts, they show up with nobility, even if no one notices.

Dads in the old days were more distant objects of awe, he said, as they performed the sacrament of burnt flesh on backyard grills and talked about things no kids could understand. The secrets of the internal combustion engine, repairs and valves and gaskets, arcane facts about World War II.

But the computer came along, changing everything. Dad sat bewildered as his 8-year-old stepped up to fix the problem.

Other things changed too. Now every family has its own resident vegetarian who can reel off sophisticated arguments against meat eating but is too polite to do it. The whole ritual of peeling plastic from the factory farmed flesh and charring it while everyone waits has lost a lot of its power.

And dads, no longer empowered as the Bringers of Flesh and Fire and Four-Stroke Engine Mysteries, well, who knows their role anymore? The authority dad got from saying "Stand back" as he threw the match on the starter-soaked coals is gone.

On the way home, we talked about fathers, our own, the fathers of our children, other fathers we've known. Mine was one of those dads who could do everything and did it. We lived in what my cousins called "The House That Was Never Done:" there was always a new project.

Our childrens' fathers came from fuzzier changing times and had to figure out different ways of being fathers and men. They still had the expectations of being providers, but so did the women by then. Some kept the role of Maker of Burnt Offerings. But exchanging money for the skills of others had become more prominent, and there was a whole new set of expectations about taking on time with kids that used to be mothers' role.

We came to some agreement about one universal: fathers and lovers need to be able to give respect as well as earn it. So, of course, do mothers and other women, but that's for another entry.

The habit of belittling was more accepted in our father's generation. Mine didn't do it, and the greatest gift he gave us was treating our mother and us with kindness and respect, not just saying he loved us. You don't learn to do that and expect it easily if you haven't lived it.

If you're not lucky enough to have a father who gives and earns respect all the time, consider what you can respect and honor that. It's a hard job, being a human being. Some are better at it than others.

What it means to be a father keeps shifting. Our sons are already thinking about that, wary of being able to figure it out well enough. But they are already doing it consciously, those who have children of their own and those who won't  for a long time. They will be good ones, or at least good enough ones, I'm pretty sure.

I respect them already.

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