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Family visit deepens appreciation of father

January 27, 2015

Family visit deepens son’s appreciation of his dad

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

Life in our small home is full, so hosting extended family visits is both exciting and challenging.

When my father recently decided to visit for six-days and nights, he understandably wanted to maximize time with his grandchildren, so he visited during the stretch between Christmas and New Year’s when school was not in session.

As a father of energetic 5- and 8-year-olds, Adam and Zoe, maintaining a joyful spirit during an 11-day school break — when the kids are intoxicated from holiday indulgence and restless from disrupted routines — requires all my energy.

Anxiously, I realized that adding a house guest to this mix might overwhelm my ability to maintain the balance that allows me to be the kind of father I want to be. But it had been a year and a half since we all gathered with my father, who lives 1,000 miles away, and three years since he was in our home, making his visit long overdue.

In preparation, I promised myself that during my father’s visit I would make an extra effort to carve out small doses of alone time to engage in the simple pleasures of running, chopping wood and writing – activities that help restore my energy. By fulfilling this pledge I was able to more fully enjoy precious time with our rapidly growing children and my aging father.

And yet — perhaps predictably — tension arose within me. I felt pulled by the practical need to parent, my yearning for more meaningful conversation with my father, the steady distraction of work that awaited my full attention, and a desire for more time with my wife, Lori.

On the surface, this tension came from the challenge of simultaneously juggling multiple roles and needs. Small talk among my peers reveals such angst commonly accompanies family visits. No doubt there is a similar version of this conversation among the older generation when they chat with their friends about these occasions.

But beneath this socially acceptable explanation, I found a deeper source of my tension — sadness. I simply long for more meaningful connection with my father and mother, connection that over the years has often been unfulfilled for them and me, for a variety of reasons.

Now, as father, husband and small business owner, I find that bond is harder than ever to maintain, yet even more important.

While my father’s recent visit offered me an opportunity to better understand my part in this equation, I also gained appreciation for his experience as a father.

Now I wonder what it was like for him when I was a child to handle the same roles I do these days.

How did he feel when I replaced some of our time together with teenage friendships, packed up and moved away to college, and later shunned contact during a particularly painful period in our relationship?

And what does he think now that my children and I are so far away?

The answers, of course, are important, not only for us, but for other fathers and their sons as well.

But so are the questions – and the conversations they promote. They make family visits times to cherish.

John Engel is a father, husband, organizational consultant and the coordinator of the Healthy Men and Boys network of western Massachusetts. He can be reached through his website, http://www.fatherhoodjourney.com.

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