Friday, June 17, 2016

10 Years of Blogging: The Reason I Write

This year marks my tenth anniversary as a blogger. To celebrate that anniversary, I've been going through my archives to repost a few of my favorite pieces from that decade. This one goes back nearly ten years. One day I sat down to write a column about the inspiration for my column "Father Knows Nothing". I had no idea this is what would come out. I decided to use it for the final chapter in the book. I call it "Why I write". I'm re-running it today because it would have been my dad's 81st birthday. That's a photo of Eckhard. He's been gone now more than half of my life...

Losing a parent has a tendency to change your outlook on life. I know it happened to me. When my father died, I was 25. That’s a pretty young age to become fatalistic, but I’ve chosen to look on the bright side of being fatalistic. For one thing, I no longer take things for granted because I know that my time on this earth is limited.

I know this is going to sound bad, but I wish my father had been a little more fatalistic. Of course, it’s totally unfair to say that about a man who walked into a hospital emergency room one day at the age of 54, and never came out again. His mindset was understandable. Both of his parents were still alive when he died. He had no reason to ever think about death. And even if he had, all three of his children were already adults (25, 24, and 19), and he had done a pretty good job of raising relatively normal functional members of society. Why would he bother thinking about what life would be like without him?

I know I’m being greedy here. I realize that. He gave me all he could give...and then some. But now that I’m a father myself, I find myself wanting something I never wanted before. His advice. I always considered Dad to be a source of wisdom, even when I strongly fought against it. He was a reasonable man, a thinker, someone who gave quite a bit of thought to his words before they came out. He wasn’t always right, but he was never rash or emotional. In short, he was the perfect kind of person to ask for advice.

And I never did.

And now that I’m a father myself, I have a million questions.

That’s probably one of the reasons I have so overcompensated with my own boys. I’ve tried to use my father as a model—his steady temperament and his guiding hand, while trying to give them what he couldn’t give me. It’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to stay home and raise them. I’m part of virtually every phase of their lives, and I’m constantly giving them unsolicited advice about every subject under the sun just in case they ever need it someday.

Unfortunately, I don’t quite have the fountain of wisdom my father had. He had knowledge that came from a difficult childhood of emigration and language barriers and hardship that I couldn’t even imagine. You learn things when you experience difficulty—and he must have learned so much. Most of those lessons learned, however, died with him. I didn’t have the foresight to ask about them, and he didn’t have the foresight to commit them to paper.

So I write.

That way, what I know will not go away when I go away. Even if my boys choose to ignore it for most of their lives, I’m fairly confident there will come a time when curiosity will get the best of them, and they will seek out wisdom from their father. When that time comes, there’s a possibility I won’t be around to deliver it in person.

The son spends his life trying to distance himself from his father, trying to make his own way in the world, trying to become a man. There’s nothing wrong with that—it’s part of growing up. I certainly don’t take it personally when my boys ignore my advice and insist on making the same mistakes I made. Some kids just learn better that way. I know I did. But there will come a day when they need me. And I just can’t bear to think that I won’t be there when they do.

So I write.

When they do seek me out, even if I’m not around, my words will still be here, to bring me back to life. They won’t have to wonder what was going through my mind when I was in their shoes--because they can read it. And if they end up having boys just like themselves—and my experience tells me they just might—they can see how and why I did what I did.

Why do I write? I know that part of the audience for every word I write includes three grown men I’ve never met. Three men who may one day want to ask Dad for advice. I only have my time, my love, and my words. I give those with all of my heart.

That’s why I write.