Changing of the guard

We think that the narrative others have created for us, or even the one we create for ourselves, is who we are. The story becomes us, our biography becomes us, our autobiography becomes us. It takes our place, and instead of a life we have literature — or caricature. But that isn’t your life. This is your life, what’s happening right now, here and now, always here and now. — R. Collins.

Being a father has been one of the most rewarding and one of the hardest things I have ever done. It’s not really over — after all, I am still a father — but the nature of the job has changed /is changing, now that my sons are out in the world with families of their own, or planning one. One already is a father — and a good one — and the other is planning to be one day. It’s not their doing that the roles are changing; it’s not mine. It just is.

[pullquote]In your mind, the world’s story concerns you, your past, your future. You are the focal point of not only your story, but everybody’s story as well.[/pullquote]This change is difficult for me to put into words. All of this has been unspoken, but the feeling between us has evolved, in a natural and right way, at least from my point of view. It has been a bit of a revelation for me, as I had little time as an adult with my own father.

He was always just my Dad to me, not a person. He moved out when I was in middle school and my mother divorced him when I was in high school. He died much too soon for me to be able to experience this, well, this changing of the guard. That’s the best way I can think of to describe it. The following is sort of how it is happening to me.

When you are growing up, the universe is centered around you. In your mind, the world’s story concerns you, your past, your future. You are the focal point, the lead actor, of not only your story, but everybody’s story as well. It’s all about you. Your children aren’t people on their own. They fulfill their roles by being your children. The rest of your family and even your friends are role players in your story, a sort of personal version of The Truman Show.

I don’t mean this as a simple ego issue, it’s deeper than that. When you’re young, you are the center of the universe. When you are old, you’re not. The story spotlight begins to drift away and pick out your children. Do we become less egocentric as we age?

Then as you and your children grow older, a point is reached where the story becomes their story and you become a bit player, an accessory, if you will. It’s definitely less about you as the central character in life and more about you becoming a character actor, no longer the hero of your own story. Maybe it’s because their story is still a novel, but your remaining tale has become a short story.

They don’t ask you so much for advice as you ask them. You no longer hear multiple “Hey, Dad!” calls as you are implored to come see what special thing they are doing. Now, they are busy and quite capable of carrying on without your oversight. It’s about their careers, their friendships, their future. You, on the other hand, are heading toward becoming a sonnet, then a haiku…..

I became aware of this after my own father died. Too late I found out that he was a person, not just an actor in my story. He had had hopes and dreams, strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, and I was his child, part of a web of inter-related issues in his life’s story. Before, I had been too self-centered, thinking the story was just mine. I didn’t get to know William H. Bohle, I knew the guy who was playing the part of the dad.

Sigh. I have not at all succeeded in wringing what I wanted to say out of these damn words. I don’t mean to complain, but I use the same 26 letters as every other writer — why do I have such a hard time lining up and grouping my 26 into something meaningful and good?

Anyway, it is my sons’ story now. They are the writers, producers and directors of it. Thank God the story is in good hands, and thank God I still am an important person in their eyes. I am a happy and contented man in no small way because of them. Cameron, Christopher: I am proud to be your father, and I love you very much. It truly is a happy, happy Father’s Day!

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