On Mother’s Day 2012 I wrote this:
Now that I am a parent and really understand how exhausting and scary it is to be responsible for even one other human being, I cannot help but be amazed that my Mom (and Dad, but he will get his turn next month) could have raised four children with such humor and grace.
“Next month” has now turned into “four years later,” but better late than never. In the intervening years I’ve had a chance to reflect on the differences between “fathering” and “mothering.” I think those distinctions help to explain why this appreciation of my father comes later and has a somewhat different emotional inflection.
Mothering is all about protection, nurturing, shelter. This is what I was referring to when I talked about the “vast reservoir of love and acceptance” I felt as a gift from my mother. So what is fathering all about? To be clear, my father is also a great source of love and acceptance, and he has always been supportive and demonstrative in ways that are not necessarily common for men born in the 1930s. But when I think about my relationship with my Dad, I think much more about how he prepared me to engage with the world.
I learned from my father the sheer joy of exploring ideas and constructing arguments (you can’t spell “McHargue” without “argue”) about everything from evolution to civil rights. I watched my father’s face as he sang Bob Dylan songs and saw the power of connecting to music (which I continue to love but can’t make nearly as well as my father or brothers). I sometimes got frustrated with the way my father insisted that I make my own choices rather than telling me what to do. I can draw direct lines from those experiences to the life I live today and to the way I interact with my own son.
Years ago, when Carter was small, we went to a parade, and I lifted him onto my shoulders so he could see. At that moment I had a powerful sense memory of my own father lifting me onto his shoulders. At the time it seemed so far off the ground, and I could see so much more. Parenting is about holding your kids close, yes, but it’s also about holding them up. So to my Dad: Happy Father’s Day, and thanks for the view.