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|Family Matters - Page 2|
Part of the bliss of a day like this is that it provides a chance not only to be with my children, but also to feel the presence of my own father, now dead 15 years. When I'm with my kids, I feel like both a child and a father.
I don't remember whether my father ever said "I love you" to me, but I felt his love in the everyday flow of life—throwing the football with him, camping, going to baseball games, making ice cream (or getting it the easy way, from Dairy Queen), watching the news together, or just sitting by the fireplace during the holidays.
Shortly after my first daughter's birth, after losing to a friend in tennis, I comically tried to exaggerate my dismal performance by confessing failure in all aspects of my life. But my friend immediately pulled me up short, saying, "You're not a failure: you're a good dad."
My daughters will always carry the burden that their father is the age of many grandparents. They've accepted that I'm more introspective and solitary than other fathers, preferring to read Food and Wine magazine at school basketball games than huddle with the other fathers and discuss the coach's misguided game strategy. But years from now, I'm determined that they'll never say of me, "I'm sure he loved me, but he didn't always know how to show it."
During a walk with my father shortly before his death, I asked what he'd do differently if he had his life to live over. He replied by telling me about a theologian who, when asked the same question, replied, "I'd eat more ice cream with my children."
The last hours of my father's life were difficult. Restless and agitated, he lay in bed with his arms outstretched, searching for something to steady and comfort him. This once strong, articulate man was caught in a storm of fear and loneliness. He could find no harbor, and we felt helpless to ease his suffering.
But then my brother returned from the kitchen and began feeding him ice cream. My sister put a stuffed toy in his arms. Embraced in the great circle of care, receiving what he'd once given so freely, he suddenly grew calm, seeming to discover for himself the peacefulness he'd bestowed upon us so many times.
Jere Chapman is a psychologist associated with MidWest Center for Personal & Family Development in Burnsville, Minnesota, and is in private practice. Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at email@example.com, or at www.psychotherapynetworker.org. Log in and you'll find the comment section on every page of the online Magazine section.