Letters to a Young Father

 “Things are not all so comprehensible and expressible as one would mostly have us believe;
most events are inexpressible, taking place in a realm which no word has ever entered. . .  .”


“Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them.”

–Rainier Maria Rilke


September 2009, blueberry pie out back with grandpa long

Years ago I imagined a book to fathers who, like most people, have much to learn. I had been reading Rilke, and found myself stumbling along, trying to make sense of my life in the years following the birth of Nathaniel. In the process of writing, I realized that my words were to my former self–the self I was at the time trying to re-imagine. This former self took on greater significance when a friend pointed to the audience of would-be fathers these letters might reach. In the end, though, I lived the answers I was seeking. There were the trips to the mountains–warming R’s milk against my own breast as I climb two thousand feet to the summit of a peak in the North Cascades where I find myself bottle feeding my son in the misty rain; the first words–those magical moments of a mind forming itself in language, Nathaniel pointing and saying, “It makes a sound!” or chirping from the backpack, “Today we are looking for the wind!” Or, following his mother describing being happy and the little wee one saying, “wait, I’m thinking,” and then exclaiming, “Content. I am content.” Or when he runs to the window after a flash of lightning and rumble of the thunder, “two large masses of air colliding!” Or, as he notices, ““There are a lot of excuse me’s in this family.” Or, years later, now five years of age, reading with his father and asking about the word “accustomed.” And me, telling him the word has to do with familiarity– something one does a lot (the ducks were accustomed to walking down the same road beside which a fox is sitting on the fence is the story line). And he responding, without pause, “I am accustomed to my sister Ellinore. I am accustomed to visiting my friend Will.” And then, when I ask him why, in the bathtub, he calls his erect penis “static” he responds that it stands up just like the hair on his head.

Nan and Iz between classes, well under the bar of the high school's public display of affection rule

Now, a middle-aged father, my son no longer taking baths but instead long showers at 6 in the morning before high school, I am trying to figure out the stages of adolescence none of us ever figures out when we are going through it, and that we think we have figured out because we have gone through it. But we never really do. Nathaniel is a little big man on campus, playing soccer in the fall, varsity ice hockey in the winter and now JV and some varsity lacrosse. The honor roll appears to come naturally, though weekly tests have taken some getting used to–as does the discipline required when you are out of the house at 6:30 and not home until after practice at 6:00 or so with homework still to do. Also, invitations to participate in the extracurriculum: a nomination to be on the first-year class council, training to be a peer mediator and, most recently, a nomination to be a member of “Interact,” a group sponsored by the Keene Rotary that do community service projects and raise funds to support local, regional and international humanitarian projects.

And finally, this afternoon, driving home from Lacrosse practice–that is, my son is driving, and I am sitting watching:  the bright early-spring afternoon light, these green fields and bare branches, this New England day.

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