Sunday, June 15, 2008

Thoughts on Fathers

Only a dad, but the best of men.
~ Edgar Guest

There is a poignant irony in the death of Tim Russert at the start of Father's Day weekend. His best-selling book, Big Russ and Me, about his father is a celebration of the invaluable gift of having grown up with a good father.

His follow up book, Wisdom of our Fathers, is a compilation of the letters Russert received following the publication of Big Russ, from readers eager to share the special qualities instilled and lessons taught by their own fathers.

"The paths of glory lead but to the grave." With stunning simplicity, Thomas Gray sums up the harsh inevitability of the life cycle. Death is the ultimate equalizer. Regardless of achievement or wealth, we come to the same end. Tim Russert had reached the pinnacle of his profession and was famous for interrogating the most powerful political players from the midst of our nation's capitol city.

Russert had worldwide fame, great material success, and far-reaching influence over current events. My father, and my children's father, had none of those things. Yet they were at least as beloved by their families as Russert was by his. I think of the sad road suddenly smashed open before Russert's family, a lonely path my children and I look back on with full knowledge that there will always be much further to travel in learning to live without the central life figure of good father.

No matter the extent of worldy success a man may possess, his loss always boils to the same hard truth: a child must now live life without Dad, a woman must do so without her husband. Each individual must navigate the raw and jagged landscape of their own broken heart, fighting the dark depths and unexpected roadblocks as best they can, and for the rest of their lives.

Whenever he heard of a tragic, sudden death, my father (d. 1987) would always say, "we know not the day nor the hour." This was his iteration of Matthew 24:42, Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. So when I heard the news about Tim Russert at the start of this Father's Day weekend, I immediately thought of my Dad.

My very next thought was how much Tim Russert would have liked that.