A few days away from Father’s Day, I decided to take inventory, to comment on the phenomenon of fatherhood.
What do I have in common with other fathers and grandfathers? I believe that too often our meddling, our trying help our children embarrasses them. Don’t all children grow to an age in which their parents become idiots? And don’t most teens eventually become 20-something men and women who are amazed at how much their parents had learned in just a few years?
On the 15th birthday of our oldest son, he honored us by letting us take him out to eat. Where? El Gallego, a now-defunct Plaza restaurant, and he ushered us to the deepest recesses of the place, far from other customers, lest he be seen with anyone over 30.
Does a father ever shake off the helicopter syndrome that requires us to swoop down and rescue our kids?
One event I’ll never forget was almost having lost our son while picking piñon. We’d made it a day-long family event, with a dozen of us picking piñon at the Diamond A ranch near Wagon Mound. It was fall, after Daylight Saving Time. Stanley Coppock, my father-in-law, cracked us up when he showed up with a bucket brimming with piñon — so much he could barely carry it. And with good reason: he’d filled the pail with rocks and sand, laced the top with piñon, and expected praise.
After we all enjoyed a good laugh, one of us asked, “Where’s Diego?” Our 2-year-old had simply taken off. It’s hard to imagine the millions of thoughts going through our minds, as we frantically ran in circles, shouting, tripping over each other, realizing the darkness was near and it would be cold that night.
But rather than prolong this drama, suffice to say my sister-in-law Donna followed the tracks of our pet dog, who had accompanied Diego, a mile and a half down a canyon. Of course, nothing describes the tears and joy in discovering that a child’s safe, but I don’t recommend creating that kind of trauma as a means of experiencing joy.
Were we a careless family? Many people we told this story to were willing to have all of us (except Diego) shot on the spot. Regardless, whenever Diego, now a 34-year-old father of three, makes plans to go on an outing with us, I tell him he must bring along a compass, GPS, a cell phone and bungee cords, so we can keep him tethered.
My stint as a father didn’t include a generous weekly allowance, expensive vacations, toys or other indulgences. What we did as a family was to spend time together, talking, reading, watching the tube, playing games or taking them to church.
Weekends were complete for the Trujillo family when one, two or all three boys worked on their bicycles or handed me tools while I repaired the fence. Not surprisingly, I continue to think of my three sons, aged 26 through 35, as little boys. Doesn’t every parent? The fact that our youngest will be getting married in three weeks changes the entire equation.
The boy who used to accompany me to all the Highlands football games and wait in the bleachers while I took photos for the campus newspaper, now has his own plans, activities which include his “Pops,” sometimes, but not always.
One time he asked, “Do you mind taking me to football games?” I told Ben about the stereotype of “fatherhood.” We get it from old movies, particularly those involving a divorced father who gets to see his son every Saturday and “take him to a ball game.” In movies, it’s always summer and always baseball.
Even before my fatherhood, and after overdosing on this kind of movie, I disagreed with the notion that kids are happiest on their way to a game with dad. l still disagree. It’s nonsense to reason that it benefits the kid for his dad to take him places, like games. Living, doing chores, talking and being a family are what help families bond. Too often we assume entertaining a child — especially when someone else is doing the entertaining — constitutes parenthood.
At the time I was driving Ben to Perkins Stadium, when he was 9 or 10, I was doing it for me. I wanted company. And it’s also fun taking kids places. If there just happened to be residual benefits on his part, some sort of male bonding, so much the better.
This, then, is my reverse-Father’s Day treatise. Instead of extolling the virtues of a long-deceased father, I chose to approach this from the standpoint of a father and grandfather whose progeny in turn may become parents. And at that point they’ll realize what it’s like to see things from my perspective, that of a 60-something man who realizes, “Hey, sons, I couldn’t have done it without you.”
And I wish I’d been the one to coin the saying, about sons: “You can lock him out of your workshop, but you can’t lock him out of your heart.” Happy Father’s Day, all.