The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

What Fathers Do

Posted by | June 19, 2016

Fatherhood is a long haul

The following was published in the Biddeford-Saco Journal Tribune Sunday edition, 6/19/2016, and Making It At Home's 6/22/2016 issue.

The week before Father’s Day, my sons gave me a great gift: they went to California for seven days with their grandmother, leaving me and my wife alone for the longest stretch of time we’ve had together in eight years.

We immediately realized was how quiet the house was. Shockingly, it turns out we’re not the family members who stomp and run. The dishwasher ceased its nightly churn; laundry piles halted their miraculous growth. My wife and I ventured out on long sob-free hikes, ate dinners in front of the TV, sampled more craft beer than usual, even went to bed after 10pm. We reconnected as adults, not just parents.

And then we began building a treehouse. With no interruptions, the project accelerated from graph paper to lumber yard shopping spree to construction within a few days. I’d always wanted to put up a fort in our backyard for the boys: what kid doesn’t want a secret place, a hideout, a perch from which to gaze upon their small, familiar world in a new way?

Even when our kids were away, we ended up working for them again. Even when 30-knot gusts threatened to tear apart the flimsy scaffolding upon which I was standing, ten feet in the air with power tools, the realization was clear: once you’re in the practice of parenting, it’s hard to stop. You’ve got to keep the hit parade of childhood playing. It’s what dads do. Moms too.

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day – four weeks apart, they’re a month-long celebration, in the season of rebirth, of the importance of parenting. With each passing year, I become more acquainted with the joys and burdens of fatherhood. The burdens are mostly transient, superficial, and lightenable by the occasional vacation from the burden-makers.

The joys of fatherhood are the continual revelations of emerging human beings. The Removal of Training Wheels, the Out-loud Reading of The First Book, the Conquering of the Diving Board: to witness change, and to know that one is taking an active part in it, is profoundly satisfying. In our jobs, in our politics, in our global civilization, it can feel impossible to find one’s place, let alone to see results. Not so with the day-to-day responsibilities and milestones of parenting. It is progress made clear, on the most local scale.

Naturally, it’s tempting to think bigger, to attempt to build treehouses, in the form of a better world, for more children, for more of the future. I salute all the fathers and mothers out there striving for their families, and I salute all the others who are working in the same parental spirit to make their communities better. At the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, where I work, the entire staff works to protect and study the coast of Southern Maine, a place so integral to my own childhood.

Whether you consider yourself a parent or not, you are part of the village it takes to raise the next generation. So happy Father’s Day. Thank you to all the parents out there that made this world for us; it is my burden, but also my joy, to continue that work.

 

Nik Charov is president of Laudholm Trust, the nonprofit partner of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine. His biweekly column, “Between Two Worlds,” ventures forth from the intersection of art and science, past and present, moms and dads. More at wellsreserve.org/twoworlds.

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