A father is known to his children in many ways: his voice, his presence, the roughness of his face, the calluses on his hands. He is known to them by the routines of his comings and goings, by his work boots and his ties, by the smell of his cologne, by the way he clears his throat. He is known to them by the tone of his words, by his authority and his laughter, by the anecdotes and admonitions, by the sound of his prayers.
To a small child, a father done right is a mountainous presence.
I’m an engineer in the same manufacturing plant my father labored in for 18 years before retiring. The distinct scent of oil, metal, and machines woven into the old cotton shirts he used to wear was familiar and comforting to me growing up. The olfactory bulb never forgets.
Last week I sat down for dinner with my wife and two daughters. After we prayed the girls dug into their meals, the sound of plates and cups and silverware and slurping of straws dominating the conversation. A long day at the plant now over, I yawned into the bend of my arm, still wearing the cuffed long sleeve flannel I had worn to work.
In that split second I remembered that scent, that same faded industrial aroma from a lifetime ago. The scent of my father, the scent that was my father, but this time on me. I was transported back a decade and a half. In that moment I saw my 10 year old self, scarfing down food next to my brother and sister, through my father’s tired eyes; the realization of family.
In that moment, I was him and I understood him and I knew his trials.
I could feel the path, under my feet, he had walked not so long ago.
In that moment, life had come full circle.
And I just about lost it. It took everything in me not to buckle over in tears. Not sad tears. Not happy tears. Just tears. Tears of times gone by, of chapters closed and new beginnings. A story written and rewritten. A colliding of past, present, and future in one quick fleeting moment. I still don’t quite know how to articulate that feeling, but it was something special.
And so, in that glitter glue streaked chair ordained with little saucy fingerprints, at that crayon stained table of bridged memories, I understood. I understood that the the greatest treasure of fatherhood is, in it's simplest form, observation. In the way they look at us, watch us, distill us. In the way they mull over our strange adult like behaviors with absolute reverence.
They see so much. They see everything, even the things we don't show them. And yet...
They don’t see the flaws or the weaknesses. They don’t see the failures or the moments we’ve hit rock bottom. The times we’ve been knocked down and the times we’ve stayed down. They don’t see our callused hands and our damaged hearts. They don’t see the evil we have done and the forgiveness we’ve begged for.
They don’t see the men we once were; the times we were unworthy of our fatherhood, unworthy of our marriages, unworthy of the way they looked up to us.
They see past the anxiousness in our hearts and the weariness in our eyes. They see past our job titles, our income, our off-branded clothing, and our hole covered jeans.
They see past the walls we throw up and the masks we pretend protect us. They see past the tears we cause them, and the discipline and respect we require of them.
They see past all of the things we hate about ourselves; the things we hate about our bodies, our speech, our capacities, our vulnerabilities.
In those beaming little eyes are nothing but love. We are their world and they love their world. They love it unashamedly.
I feel my throat tighten at the thought of how undeserving I am of such love; such pride and admiration. How little I have earned, how little right I have to be so important, revered, trusted in their little eyes.
And yet. There they are. Seeing us as the mighty fathers they believe we are. Therein lies the might of a father; of every father. The source of their strength; the source of our strength.
The wellspring from which I flow.
And from which floweth.
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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