Sunday, June 05, 2016

Laying a Strong Enough Foundation

It may just me me, but it seems my generation of me was pounded with messages about what a good father should look like.

From "Cats in the Cradle" to every sitcom and family comedy, the message was clear -- a good father puts Family over Career. He never misses a ballgame, dance recital, or doctor's appointment. He know the names of his children's teachers, friends, friends' parents, and caretakers. He does at least his share of the housework and ferrying duties. If his job gets in the way of this, he should find a different job that doesn't interfere with his vocation of fatherhood.

Failure to do this will result in his kids growing up not knowing him at best or hating him at worst. It will also cause his wife to resent him for leaving this entire burden on her.

So, it was interesting to hear the direction "Dear Theodosia," Hamilton's ode to fatherhood, took in describing Hamilton and Burr's vision of what that should look like:
You will come of age in our young nation
We'll bleed and fight for you. We'll make it right for you.
If we lay a strong enough foundation
We'll pass it on to you; we'll give the world to you
And you'll blow us all away 
Granted, this is set more than 200 years ago, and I'm not sure either Hamilton or Burr should serve as a model for modern fatherhood. But I think this gets at an aspect of fatherhood (and motherhood), that is often overlooked -- that it also involves creating a better, just world for our children to live in. And the means to do this is sometimes Career.

This ran through my head while reading Joe Posnanski's widely praised essay describing taking his teenage daughter  to see Hamilton. 

Posnaski describes taking a speaking engagement to earn enough money to buy secondary market tickets to take his daughter to see Hamilton, and the glorious time they had.

One could simply say this is an activity of "privilege," and envy that Posnanski can do something like this and most of us cannot. But I think it's worth digging a little deeper than that

For one, the speaking engagement likely took Posnanski away from his family for some time.

More deeply, I suspect that Posnanski developing his craft and reputation such that he could earn enough money for after-market Hamilton tickets from a single speaking engagement required some trade-offs with family life. To "lean in," to borrow a term from another context. My suspicion is that building his career as a nationally known writer required some missed dinners, piano recitals, and teacher's conferences, and that many ferrying duties fell to his wife.  This (with a considerable amount of hard work and talent) put him in a position where he could give himself and his daughter an unforgettable experience that is out of reach for many of us.

Or maybe I'm wrong.  Mabe Posnanski was truly able to "have it all" through hard work and discipline, and my failure to do the same is just a cop-out.  I tell myself that people like Posnanski are more successful than I am because I made different trade-offs than they did (or, less charitably, that they are less devoted to their families than I am), when the reality is that they are just more talented or hard-working than I am.

 It's a question I and many parents struggle with. How many family dinners or little league games is worth a trip to Hamilton?  It's true that moments of grace often pop up when you least expect them but I don't think the experience Posnanski described was much more likely to happen at the Richard Rodgers Theater than the local ballfield.

I don't have the answer. And I suspect the answer is different for everybody. It's why those of us who are religious need to spend considerable time in prayer is discerning the best manner to live this vocation.
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