My father has been dead for twenty years. He was a gifted man, witty, elegant, intellectually dazzling, a good provider, but not much of a father. He sat in his reading chair with rarified detachment. So far as I can remember we never threw a ball at each other, hiked together, or fished, and after one night of camping in an “improved” campground in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, he said, with finality, “I don’t know why after three thousand years of progress, any rational person would sleep on the ground and build a fire.”
But I think of him every day. Every time I have a question about current events or the state of the world; every time I am puzzling through a difficult passage in Shakespeare or Milton or Emerson; every time I accomplish something, however small, I think of my father and miss him in a fierce sort of way.
He was the best editor I ever had. The best conversationlist. The best reader of texts. The best person to watch 60 Minutes with or Nightline or Crossfire.
All of us have fathers. Not everyone becomes one. In being a father, I have tried to be what my father wasn’t: there, engaged, encouraging, joyful, effortlessly and helplessly in love with my child. Of all the things I have done in my life–some of them for which I am very proud–far the best thing I ever did was become the father of a now 21-year-old daughter. There are no joys like those of a parent. There are no anguishes like those of a parent whose child is suffering or sad. There is no love like that of a parent for a child. It has rightly been said, “we don’t just love our children, we keep falling in love with them.” Without question I would jump in front of a cement truck to save the life of my child, or let myself be tortured by terrorists to save her. If she needed my heart to live, I would jump happily onto the surgery table. If someone hurt her fundamentally (I had this nightmare a few days ago) I would buy a gun and kill that man, or beat him to a bloody mass with a baseball bat, and then happily take the stand in court to explain why I murdered her tormenter.
I think the father-daughter relationship has a special dynamism–it may be the best relationship life offers. It certainly has been the best relationship of my life. We laugh more together than I have ever laughed with anyone. And we share a view of life–that books should be at the center of life, that skepticism is the best lens to wear through life, especially our public lives, and that most of what passes for righteousness is humbug. We travel exceptionally well together. We have an easy deep harmony that I have never experienced with any other individual. And I count myself the luckiest man in the world that I have this daughter, and no other.
Happy Father’s Day. The tie means nothing, but the guffaw and the burnt toast mean everything.