Updated: May 16, 2020
I dedicate this to the healing of relationships of all those who’ve had a father and all those that have participated in ushering new life into our world…
I’ve come to see children as instruments of renewal, re-creation if you like. They are sent here for the purpose of finding healing for themselves and their parents, each helping the other. “Teach Your Children” by CSN&Y describes this inter-generational renewal process. Spiritual recycling.
In the beginning…
Fatherhood is all about letting go. For starters, we have to release our seed. Well, you say, that’s not too difficult as it comes naturally. OK, you’re right, there appears to be no pain but rather lots of pleasure in this act. And that’s as it should be since we have been given the awesome privilege of serving as co-creators. In one account of the creation story, after surveying the results of allowing spirit to materialize into the world of form, G-d says with pleasure, “It is good…very good.” Letting go, releasing has a pleasurable dimension. Creation however, like most of life, is not just filled with pleasure. It also has another side.
At the moment the new life enters our world and the cord is cut, it is separated from its warm and secure womb, and pain is experienced by child and parent. While the obvious heavy lifting is undertaken by the mother as she labors, a father can experience a painful sense of loss as the mother-child bond develops and deepens. He may be left wondering, “Now, what’s my role?” Provider, protector, teacher? Nurturer? - not likely, especially, if he’s had no models for this kind of relationship. In any case, he’d better do some serious bench pressing as life will surely challenge him to try to meet these formidable roles.
Before the beginning…
I didn’t want to have children. I was afraid of inflicting the painful experiences I had with my own dad onto another life. Over time, I would be invited to let go of these fears and learn to trust. Deeply hidden, these fears only surfaced after Eileen began discussions about starting a family. Through counseling and grace I was able to open up to Eileen’s desire and I consented. That’s not the end of this tale. We couldn’t conceive. As the years went on, I started to see this as some sort of cosmic joke. “You got me to say ‘Yes’ and nothing’s happening, just waiting.” Eventually, doctors said I might be the reason, as my sperm were too laid back, and a surgical procedure was scheduled to increase our chances. You’d think this would be enough to scare my sperm into high gear. Remember the cosmic joke comment – well, here’s where the punchline gets delivered. Just a few days before my procedure, Eileen calls me at work with the joyful news that she’s pregnant. As this new development started to sink in, I imagined a modern version of the Abraham and Isaac story in which a doctor armed with a scalpel was standing over my privates poised to strike…and just in the nick of time – deliverance! Talk about an on-time G-d!
Some memories of letting go…
“I DON’T wanna hold your hand.”
Sorry, Lennon & McCartney. When our John was first learning to walk, he willingly held my hand. Then, at some point, he decided that he wanted to be free to walk by himself and told me to let go.
Huffin’ & Puffin’
The beginning of John’s driving adventures started with a Little Tykes Cozy Coupe and progressed, as it does with many boys, into bigger, faster and more expensive toys. I didn’t have to worry much because in his little red and yellow car, he was still safely held by the laws of balance and gravity. But, as it does in other areas of life, there came the time to remove the old, safe, comfortable support system - in this case four wheels and two feet on the ground – and move on to the bicycle. I was nearly 50 when I began the lessons on the 222nd street Queens Village sidewalk in front of the apartment where we lived. This kid was strong and it took a lot of endurance to run next to him, my hand firmly on the back of his seat. When the time was right, I knew I’d have to let go, trusting that skinned knees and other bruises are how we learn. After all, my dad had done the same with me and my Roadmaster bike. “Stay where I can see you” was my attempt to still have some connection to this young child. Soon, he’d be going off around the corner and out of sight.
“LE(t)GO. I want to do it my way.”
We had lots of times together playing in his younger years. Eileen and I worked it out so we had complementary shifts. I came home around 3 pm and reported for the second shift: playing, eating, then more playing. John always did his homework in school so it wouldn’t interfere with, you know what – PLAYING. In fact, by this time, he had developed a chant, “Play, play, play. Nothing else, just play.”
He like to build things using LEGOs, wooden and cardboard blocks, and assorted household articles, carefully selected to fulfill a particular architectural need. Elaborate train layouts and roads for car were favorites, running from room to room throughout our third-floor apartment. They often stayed up for days. As we designed empires, I soon saw that he had his own script for how the setups were to look and what the various figures were to say to each other. Whether they were Little People riding in cars or majestic knights atop horses storming a castle, John told us how to play. I let go of any attempts to influence these interactions and allowed him to be the director.
Very early on I realized that he was very good with his hands. One incident drove this home. As we were playing with some Fisher-Price tools, I watched as he “palmed” a screwdriver like one of the automobile technicians I worked with. I was not surprised. See, my dad could fix anything. I don’t know anything about his dad or other Tittmann’s before him, since from the age of three, he was orphaned and raised along with his two brothers by German nuns. Whatever inherited hand skills he possessed were furthered when he served in the Navy during WWII and was assigned to the SeaBees (a nickname for the Construction Battalion). I didn’t notice these skills until I was about 13 and he bought our first house on 117th St in Richmond Hill. I was the oldest of 7. My mom did all her work inside the home, while dad was the sole breadwinner. I’m sure our large family had something to do with their enjoyment of the pleasures associated with co-creating – if you get my drift.
“De-fence, De-fence, De-fence”
(You’ll see below why I’m using the British spelling.)
Baseball was another place where John used his dexterity. Our time in Little League with Coach Pete was special. It was yet another place he demonstrated his drive and passion for accomplishing something he wanted. I fondly recall all the time we spent practicing pitching and hitting. To protect myself from his power, I built a PVC pipe and netting shield and positioned myself safely behind it when throwing batting practice. This homemade fence was my “defence against the dark art” of the line drive up the middle. As insurance (think Patronus Charm), I also wore a Medic Alert pendant around my neck. Often, when I’m in my yoga class and look out across the pool to the Echo Park baseball field, I remember his walk-off home run. Lots of wonderful memories…You may be wondering where’s the letting go in this example.
When John showed promise as a hitter and pitcher, I started to wonder where this might lead. I grew up without having any educational or career goals. Until my mid-twenties, I never thought much about what I was going to do with my life. So, when I became a dad, I pretty much had the same “take it as it comes” attitude and didn’t have any particular goals for John. As we went to baseball lessons and camps, I thought that maybe he’d excel in this area. Unknown to me, he was already realizing that to succeed he needed to make a choice between baseball and music. By the end of his middle school years, he refocused his energy and passion on the piano.
How to get to Carnegie Hall
Besides building, John also used his hand “tools” to play a variety of musical instruments. In think the flutophone was his first, then trumpet in the school band. The piano would soon be added. It started one day when we were visiting a friend. She had a piano in her living room. Eileen or I might have mentioned that John had been making tunes on this shirt-pocket sized piano someone had given him. She invited him to sit next to her on the bench as she showed him “Heart and Soul.” She did one hand, while he did the other. He took right to it and they played a duet.
“Will Drive for Food”
I had to teach myself to drive because my dad never drove or owned a car until after he retired. It was then that I taught him to drive – and my mother never forgave me.
Years later, I recalled a sign that John would have an on-going love affair with driving machines. At his christening, a friend gave us a card that showed a baby looking out over his dad’s shoulder. The caption over the baby’s head asked, “Is it too soon to ask for the car keys?”
Teaching John to drive was really easy. He was a natural. As our lessons progressed, I again realized that there’d be a time when I wouldn’t be in the car looking out for his safety and would have to let go of the steering wheel – both the actual one and my mental one. He quickly stretched the limits of my comfort zone, when soon after getting his license, he drove with some high school friends to the City of Brotherly Love for a cheese steak. While this was before the era of electronic navigation systems, he had his own built-in GPS (Gastronomical Procurement System).
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away - Of heroes’ quests and the search for meaning
Like most boys, John loved to create and inhabit whole worlds of good guys and bad guys. It began with knights on horses, progressed to larger action figures and then to video games with their virtual contests. Beating the bad guys - the boss – was the ultimate challenge and much passion and energy and a few smashed controllers were utilized to accomplish it.
Eileen and I introduced John to Star Wars and he and his cousins would play for hours dressed in capes and armed with light sabers. But he took us deeper into the world of mystical quests and fantastic beasts as we entered into the magical realms of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. We met characters much like us that contained their own unique combinations of darkness and light. He then brought us into movies like the Matrix series that question the nature of reality. Space fantasies like Interstellar continued as some of his favorites. After his Tesla purchase, I’d not be surprised if he already has his name on the waiting list for one of Elon Musk’s expeditions to Mars. I wonder if the first space bus with have “Furthur” on its destination sign.
“A man after my own heart”
There’s a line in a Christmas song that asks, “Mary, did you know that the child you’ve delivered will soon deliver you?” At some point, Eileen and I started seeing this line in a new light – as pertaining to our son. From an early age, John had prayed for wisdom. Those of us who knew him best would remark that he had wisdom beyond his years. As he grew older, this became more apparent when he began speaking into some of the broken areas of our lives.
I’m only recently discovering that one of these areas in my life that requires ongoing healing is my ability to give and receive love. Some of it likely stems from the early wounds of my relationship with my dad. Grace intervened using a curious instrument to begin a much-needed restoration with him. It began as I spent a weekend retreat in my apartment eating brown rice and getting absorbed in the wisdom of “Be Here Now” by Baba Ram Dass - a counter-cultural icon, non-practicing Jew and high priest of psychedelics who went to India in search of truth. As I slowly devoured his words, an image on page CVII in the large brown-paged section captured my heart. There’s a pencil drawing of Jesus’ lying on the cross. Surrounding this face filled with love are these words:
“Do you think that when Christ is lying there and they’re nailing the nails in he’s saying, ‘Oh man, does that hurt!’? He’s probably looking at the guy who’s nailing him with
He digs why the cat’s doing it. What he’s stuck in. How much dust covers his eyes. Why he’s got to be doing it. That’s the way it is. He said the night before: ‘Well, tomorrow is the big trip. Yeah-right – these are the nails. Wow! Look at that!’
Am I he who is being pained? No! That’s the thing. Once you know that then: Pleasure & pain, loss & gain, fame & shame – are all the same. They’re all just happening.”
For the first time I was introduced to a G-d of love and not judgement and it freed something within me. Fear was being replaced with love - a letting go of what no longer would serve me.
On the Monday after this healing encounter, I called my dad and asked to meet with him. I didn’t know what I was going to say to him, but I felt compelled to see him. When I saw him and after some small talk, I looked at him and said something about how much I appreciated what he had given me. Then I said, “…but, Dad, how come we’ve never been able to express love for each other?” And I hugged him. It was a one-sided hug but it created cracks in our armor that would subsequently allow light to get in. Within a month we made a men’s retreat together – each seeking our own Holy Grail. The healing continued as my parents accepted my invitation to travel with me as I was moving to California in an attempt to find myself. As we drove across the country in my 65 VW Bus with surfboard on the roof, dad rode shotgun and took pictures while mom sat in the back writing poetry. Kinda our version of S&G’s “America.”
I’ve included this episode because John and I are just starting to begin a new chapter in our own story that involves another heroic quest. We are undertaking the long journey from our heads to our hearts. While this means something different for each of us, we are traveling as companions – as a Fellowship of the Heart, if you like. And the goal, the prize is not in some mystical, fog-shrouded place far, far away. It is within each of us. In fact, it’s actually the same place to which we are each traveling…
Of endings and beginnings…
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
--from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”
As I said at the beginning of this tale, I believe that this is why children are given to us – for our healing, and if you like, our deliverance. As the CSN&Y song goes…
And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears
That your elders grew by.
And so please help them with your youth.
They seek the truth
Before they can die.
Teach your parents well.
Their children's hell
Will slowly go by.
And feed them on your dreams.
The one they pick's the one you'll know by.
Don't you ever ask them, "Why?"
If they told you, you would cry.
So, just look at them and sigh
And know they love you.
I dedicated this tale to the healing of relationships of all those who’ve had a father and all those that have participated in ushering new life into our world…if you sense the need for healing, be courageous and take the first step…
Peace and Happy Father’s Day!