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It takes a village to raise a father

December 17, 2011

The Fatherhood Journey:  It takes a village to raise a father                                           as published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

It was a hectic week – nothing catastrophic, a few work deadlines for me, a few wrinkles at work for Lori, four tired bodies, three runny noses and two coughing kids.

And, at last, the promise of one restful weekend.

With the kids in their beds, we pop a rare library movie in the DVD player. The movie is not rare, nor is the library. It’s simply rare that we are watching the movie before returning it. The weekend is shaping up nicely.

Morning arrives with a chill, but the kids are pumped up: Tomorrow is finally Halloween. Weeks ago, Zoe, 5, informed us that she will be a peacock, proudly wearing all of her wildest-colored clothing at the same time, the ensemble accented by a feathery Mardi Gras mask.

Adam, 2, tells us, daily, “I’m gonna be an owl.” Lori fancies her witch’s hat. I’m ambivalent about costumes. As the father of a peacock and an owl, I consider dressing as an ornithologist, or maybe a novice bird watcher. The thought passes.

Breakfast is typical: bowls of steaming oatmeal, hot tea, homemade muffins. The sun warms the dining area. Lori and I chat about the morning news and our plans for the day. Meanwhile, the kids climb in and out of their seats – 11 times. Adam accidentally spills dry cereal all over the floor, then purposely stomps on it. Zoe spills a cup of milk while reaching across the table. They fight over one of their three red markers. Remnants of three activities are scattered on the kitchen floor. Lori and I smile at each other. Word of a nor’easter comes over the radio.

Come afternoon, we dig out our camping gear, round up some supplies and prepare to hunker down. We are skeptical about all of the hoopla. By nightfall, heavy, wet snow covers the lawn. The lights flicker repeatedly. Leafy tree limbs creak and groan. In the wee hours of the morning the familiar glow of the clock radio and the sound of the thermostat switching on the boiler are absent.

On Sunday morning we awake to a haunting wintry wonderland. The biggest challenge of the day is convincing the kids to come in from playing in the snow for lunch, and later, supper.

By Monday morning it’s a chilly 57 degrees in the house. The power outage has canceled school and the kids are restless. The thought of three to seven days without power hangs heavy over us. We happily accept an invitation to visit our neighbors in their warm, gas-heated home.

Later that afternoon we are relieved when our power and heat return. We know others are far less fortunate.

By Tuesday morning the excitement of the extended weekend has faded. A second day of school closings, Lori’s return to work and the thought of another day at home with the kids, who are growing more fitful, leaves me feeling drained.

I love being a father. I would not trade it for anything. Yet there are moments, sometimes days, when my tank is empty. These times do not coincide with my finest fathering. And this could be one of those days. At 9:45 a.m. I receive an unexpected text: The Parent Center is open today.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I load the kids into the bike trailer and head to town. The bike path proves to be a tough slog, with my wheels failing to cut through the crusty snow and ice. Undeterred, I take to the streets. And soon I’m strolling into my favorite “watering hole,” The Parent Center. The room is packed. The crowd looks weary. After I peel boots and coats off the kids they merrily scatter. I work my way to the back in search of a strong drink.

Emerging with a steaming cup of tea, my tension melts as I spot the regulars.

Jim catches my eye from across the room. Since retiring from the local VA, he comes here four days a week with his grandson, Zachy. Once a month he goes to Mohegan Sun, where he trades in his mug of coffee for a few Keystone Lights and a shot at big winnings.

Paul, a unionized foreman, recently working construction on the new law school library at Harvard, watches his son, Owen, scoot across the floor.

Stan, who has returned to professional sailboat racing, scoops up his daughter, Arden.

Dave, a former Brooklyn assistant district attorney, greets me as his son, Luca, and my Adam roll around on the mats, laughing and drooling.

Joel, a former high school physics teacher currently working as a part-time youth minister, arrives with his two daughters.

These fathers and many others, along with a host of mothers, help me remember that I am not alone on this fatherhood journey.

Before fatherhood I was more self-sufficient, or I pretended to be. In truth, my self-determination often left me disconnected from those who matter most. As a man who has logged many miles as a runner, including a few marathons, part of me wants to “Just do it” when it comes to fatherhood. Sometimes this approach is useful. Often it does not work for anyone.

I now accept the ancient wisdom that it takes a village to raise a child. I am still learning, with great humility, that it takes a village to support a father.

Before having children, I could not imagine that spending a morning in a church basement, teeming with a dozen or so dads, a few dozen moms, a mob of kids, a sea of toys and lots of caffeinated drinks, would constitute an emotional oasis. In this village called the Northampton Parent Center, which celebrated 25 years of family service last week, my spirits lifted. And in my heart of self-determined hearts, I know this place and the people here help me be the father I want to be, the one my kids deserve.

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