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Fatherhood Journey celebrates 100

February 27, 2020

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on February 26, 2020

This is the 100th edition of the Fatherhood Journey. In the fall of 2011, without a plan or much expectation, I wrote my first column. At the time, Lori and I had been married six years, with our daughter Zoe, 5, and son Adam, 2.

I was mostly an at-home father by day, and simply thought adding a father’s voice — about fatherhood and family — to the Gazette would complement a number of columns regularly written by mothers. Inwardly, I hoped that publicly sharing reflections on my own experience might promote more public and private conversations about fatherhood.

Two years prior, we had relocated to Northampton from Boulder, Colorado, returning to Lori’s New England family roots and satisfying our urge for adventure. It was the height of the Great Recession and we had both been laid off from professional roles that were fulfilling and reasonably-paid. When we arrived, Lori was very pregnant, we lacked local friends and family, and we were jobless.

While Lori, as a skilled physical therapist, had plentiful job opportunities, my varied professional experience made finding work more challenging. So, a few months after Adam was born, Lori returned to part-time work at a local clinic. I picked up work as a consultant, which, fortunately, I was able to do at night from a closet at the top of the stairs to our apartment, a quiet and welcome refuge barely big enough for two book shelves and a desk.

By day I was Daddy, pushing Zoe and Adam to town in a double stroller, seeking adventure, meeting other parents and kids at the local parenting center, and experiencing the full range of emotions — from pure joy, to utter insanity — that comes from parenting young children.

It was in this context — the milieu of my daily life — where my aspiration to be an engaged father and loving husband stretched me — often to the breaking point — beyond the person I was, to the person I was becoming, again and again. The Fatherhood Journey, somewhat unwittingly, came to be a chronicle of this experience where, through a mix of raw emotions and curated accounts, (omitting some details in an effort to maintain family privacy), I reflected on fatherhood and the precious life lessons it offered me.

Ninety-nine columns later, Lori and I are approaching 15 years of marriage, each with full-time careers; Zoe and Adam are 13 and 10 years old respectively. Recently rereading the columns, many aloud as a form of family story-telling, generated much laughter, appreciation and a gentle reminder that life is a rich blend of love and daily struggle, celebration and hardship, death and renewal.

Collectively, these columns illustrate that fatherhood is multidimensional, too; that being father to Zoe and Adam has led me to rethink, reimagine, and sometimes reaffirm my understanding of the personal, familial, social, cultural, political and economic layers of my life.

Above all, though, this series of monthly reflections reveals that fatherhood is a practice — a spiritual practice — one that I do each day, every day, sometimes well, other times not so much. The practice is anchored in the belief that I matter to Zoe and Adam. What I do and say, and don’t do and don’t say, directly impacts them, now and long after my final breath.

The practice is often mundane, sometimes mysterious and always sacred. The practice is both fundamentally simple and yet so very difficult. And, the practice — at each stage of the journey — has proven sweeter and more meaning-filled than I ever imagined.

For all of this — the great gift of fatherhood — I am grateful to Zoe and Adam, who through their very being inspire me to continue growing as a father, and to Lori, my partner in parenting and life, with whom I have the joy of navigating this crazy adventure — the fatherhood journey.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website fatherhoodjourney.com. His column has moved to the Opinion page starting this month, and will appear on the fourth Wednesday and online at http://www.gazettenet.com.

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