My dad was a pilot. Actually, he was part pilot and part the airplane itself. When we were little he’d lie flat on his back and heist us up on his feet in the air. It was quite the process. You put your belly against his feet and the plane slowly takes off. Then you spread your arms out wide and fly while balancing on his feet. Sometimes he’d let go of your hands and you’d fly solo while he made airplane sounds and swerved and pitched dangerously until you tumbled to the floor giggling. The game also included standing straight up on the palms of his hands or getting flipped over his shoulder. We took turns. Over the years there were eventually eight of us, and we all took our turns in flight.
Later, as we became parents, the game continued. I can remember giving my children airplane rides—the experience of flying. Sometimes the prize was to get drooled on by a grinning baby—I tended to start them pretty early. I got so strong and sturdy with this floor play that eventually each one of my kids could stand straight on my raised palms. Think arms as pillars with a child’s foot in each hand. I remember holding them up until my arms were trembling with fatigue.
I think about fathers now and this image comes to mind as a metaphor. He holds my weight until his arms are trembling—and then I have to find my balance and carry my own weight.
There are still strong families—strong fathers. I see them on the streets and in the cafes. I love to watch the way they lean easily into the needs of their little ones. I don’t see these fathers on the television. On TV the fathers (and the mothers) are portrayed as silly, juvenile, petty characters. And sadly, the children are often portrayed as spoiled, mouth and obnoxious little beasts in training to become greedy adults.
I think (I hope) that this television view of parents is more reflective than causative, but it saddens me. When I think of family, I want to see two strong columns holding up the structure of the whole family. Mom and Dad. In our culture, that structure is falling. More and more children are growing up in families without their fathers. Instead of dissing the dads, we should be doing all we can to help them become strong men and fathers. We should be teaching them to fly.
The other day we did a Video Letters screening for a group of early childhood care providers. That film always stabs the heart of people who have lost their fathers. It doesn’t matter how he went missing—death, divorce, incarceration—but I am always stunned by the strength of our need for him. It doesn’t matter what age we are, we want our dad.
One woman at the conference was crying through the film and still crying when she came to talk to us after it was over. As it happens, her three-year-old grandchild’s father just went to prison. “What can we do?” she asked. I talked awhile with her and learned that her father had died when she was thirteen. In a sense, her mother died with him. She was the oldest child and took over many parenting duties.
The first thing that was clear to me was that her almost desperate concern for the three-year-old was many times magnified by her own grief of missing her father. She was leaking grief onto her grandchild. Instead of talking theory and concepts, I just put my hand on her shoulder and asked her to feel her father behind her. I said that it is not possible to lose a father if we feel him there at our back.
We stood there a moment as she let the energy of her dad come into her body. Suddenly her tears of grief and loss became the tears of love and deep relief. I have seen tears transform this way so many times. I almost wish I could do a chemical analysis of both types of tears. They are difference. Tears of loss drain us—tears of love fill us up.
I want all children to feel their father behind (or beneath) them supporting their weight until they can do it for themselves. I want all children to fly when it is time for them to fly. It should be the least that they can expect from this life.
The Strong Family Project is another of our creations. Like many of our efforts, we have no idea where it will go or how it will get there. It began many years ago—a lifetime ago. It began for me with airplane rides, and it began for Milt with never knowing his biological father—two very different pictures.
These early events shape our lives in so many ways. Our plan for right now is to just visit with people about their fathers. Maybe you had a strong airplane dad—or maybe your dad went missing. Maybe you are about to become a dad, or maybe you are trying to find your way back to your children. We want to hear your story. We’ve started a new website to explore all the ways that families can heal and become strong once again. Milt wants to begin interviewing people about fathers and eventually it will become a documentary. The website is at www.thestrongfamilyproject.org.
Come, join us, sign up, add your two cents worth, agree to be interviewed and most of all, remember that you cannot lose a father. We all have only one and he is connected to us forever.Share on Facebook