Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father’s Day: Particles of Connection

This is my 5th Father’s Day without my father.

This is my 13th Father’s Day as a father.

What I am learning is that the power of a father is not a political issue. It is not theoretical. It is real. The power of a father’s presence or the power of a father’s absence shapes the context – is a shaping part of the context - for a child. A good man brings good context for his children.

The measure of a father does not come in the number of children he has. For men, there is little obligated initial investment, unlike women who carry the child inside them, risk their lives in giving birth, and oftentimes are the very source of food for the child for months. Men must assert their engagement from the moment there is a pregnancy until…until someone dies, really.

The measure of a father is not that he made a genetic contribution, although participating in the miracle is no small thing. It comes in daily units of connection. Each interaction with his child is a particle of formation for the child. It is a particle of formation for the father as well. Each particle of connection means that the connection was the thing happening and not something else.

Particle? That’s so small. How does it matter? Well, each particle of connection on its own may not make a significant difference. Accumulated particles matter a great deal. The sum of particles of connection is good, but it does not tell the whole story. When enough particles of any kind gather between a father and his child, whether they are of connection or of something else, they form expectations, they form identity, they form beliefs, they form what a person calls reality. The accumulation of instances organizes into something much deeper and more profound than the instances themselves. So in one sense, no single particle of connection is essential, but every single on of them is sacred.

Accumulating particles of connections builds interest. This is both literal a metaphoric. Literally, the more connected a father and child are the more interested they become in each other. It is not a static thing that once father status is established, there it is forevermore more. No, it is always changing. It must be attended to. Metaphorically, accumulated particles gain interest, like money in the bank. It becomes more valuable not just in accumulated size, but it becomes more than it would be merely added together.

What is curious about these particles of connection is that they are not static. They change and move and rearrange and reorganize and get interpreted in more than one way. A father introduces the particles of connection into the relationship he has with his child (the child introduces them as well). Both the child and the father participate in arranging them, setting meaning to them, and collaborating in deciding how these particles will form life identity. There is a constant stream of contribution of more particles of connection and at the same time the construction what the new particles mean on their own and when they join the existing collection of experiences.

Becoming a father is the collaboration, negotiation, and social construction of a mosaic of connection particles between a man in his offspring. It is permanent in that it always matters. It is dynamic in that it always changes. It is meaningful in that it constantly exists and therefore must be interpreted and reinterpreted. It is powerful in that it always has consequences. It is moral in that it is always laden with obligations and entitlements.

Fathers matter. They matter in macro-fathering – the big stuff. They matter in the micro-fathering – the little stuff. This is both an affirmation and a call.

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