“There are no born heroes,” the trainer of soldiers said in a psychology documentary. “The guy who put himself in harm’s way to protect his fellow men one week is hiding around the corner shaking in his boots another week.”
The hero is the one who does what needs to be done. Anyone who takes care of a child is a hero; in raising a child, there is much that needs to be done.
To be a father is to cease being one man and to become another man, almost like a king abdicating in order to become the tutor and protector of the heir to the throne.
When presented with a helpless infant, who wouldn’t do all that needs to be done? But why a man would choose that role, to decide to forsake his pristine autonomy and go and make his own helpless infant, beats the hell out of me.
One of my earliest memories is being pulled away from my father in the midst of a fun play fighting session. I asked in toddler talk, “What’s wrong?” I thought the way he was clutching his eye was all part of the game. Apparently my fist at that age was sized precisely to fit deep within an adult male’s eye-socket.
A middle memory of mine is of saying to Dad, “Wow, you spent a quarter of a million dollars to raise me, and then you paid for a degree that I don’t even appreciate. Pretty crappy investment, if you ask me.”
A more recent memory is of answering Dad’s question about a book he had turned his house upside down looking for. “That one I gave you for your birthday? I took it last time I was home.”
That all falls within the easy, harmless, inevitable part of fatherhood. The kind of thing that leads to balding and chest pains is like when I was seventeen, went out with the car in the afternoon and didn’t come back, or call, because I was out having fun. Dad got called, for professional reasons, at 3:30am and had to go out. I was nowhere to be found. This was before the age of cell phones. The police wanted him to come investigate a scene on the far side of town, very near our summer home, where they had found the body of an unidentified 17-year-old boy. That he wanted to kill me when I drove home at sunrise made sense to me even then.
It takes guts to be a father. Nerves of steel, patience of a saint, resourcefulness of a Scout leader, wisdom of a sage, indomitable determination, every penny you’ve got. Basically, a father has to have all the best qualities of James Bond, Gandhi, Gandalf, Buddha, King Solomon and King Midas.
What takes more guts than being a father? Go ask your mother.