Fountain's new book, "Dear Dad Reflections on Fatherhood." For more information visit the book's web site at www.wspbooks.com
Updated: May 16, 2011 2:16PM
It was a crying fest at school, my 9-year-old son explained to me while the hair clippers buzzed — our father-son ritual since he was 1 year old.
Everybody was crying, he continued, “. . .all the girls, even my teacher.”
“They were passing out Kleenex . . .”
It was the class’ response to sad news: the departure of a little boy who was moving to Alaska, or, in their third-grade minds, to the other side of the world. So on his last day of school, one by one, the girls dissolved into tears upon saying farewell.
One of the boys started crying too. Then another boy, seeing his male classmate’s tears, scolded, “ ‘Man up!’ ”
“But I didn’t cry,” my son said proudly. “Daddy, men don’t cry.”
“No, that’s not true,” I said. “Men do cry. Men are human . . .”
I went on to try to uproot the myth already sprouting in his young mind, explaining that hurt is hurt, whether experienced by a boy or a girl; that there is nothing effeminate about shedding tears as a man or boy, and that real men really do cry.
If he had thought about it, he might have recalled seeing me cry not that long ago as I stood at my grandmother’s graveside during a visit one Mother’s Day. He might also have remembered seeing me cry during prayer at our home.
What he did not know is that when he was born, I cried — tears of joy. That when I got the news that my father had been killed in a car accident in Evergreen, Ala., I cried — tears of regret. That after seeing my name on the list of the boys who made my high school basketball team, I cried — tears of accomplishment.
Over the years, as a reporter, I have cried after witnessing human loss and suffering. I’ve shed tears more times than I can count as I have experienced the triumphs and also sufferings that accompany this thing called life.
And I have come to believe that my ability to cry, in some ways, has been my salvation, that thing that has kept me connected, not to my “feminine side”— whatever that means — but to the emotional barometer that exists in us as human beings, even men.
As I stood, talking to my son, trimming his hair, I understood that we were both blessed — he as a son and me as a father. For this was not my experience with my own biological father, who, by the time I was my son’s age, had become the invisible man. And there is evidence that for far too many sons and daughters this unfortunately continues to be the case.
I can’t help but wonder — in the absence of dads — who will teach the children some of life’s lessons that are meant to be taught by fathers. This much I do know: No one can ever take our place; that the greatest gift we give our children is not our purchases but our presence.
Such are the lessons of fatherhood, and also the hope for healing for those who have suffered fatherlessness that I believe are embodied in my new book, Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood.
“It’s OK to cry,” my son said eventually. “I felt sad, but not enough to cry.”
“. . . Well, it’s just good that you are able to express your feelings . . . I’m glad,” I said before rubbing his neck with spice aftershave.
But my real joy was simply being able as his father to be there.
John Fountain will speak about his new book at 6:30 tonight at the Gage Gallery at Roosevelt University, 18 S. Michigan Ave.