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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fatherhood


Biological Fathers & Intellectual Sons

 

Sixty years after his death, I have unqualified respect for my father’s innate brilliance, his fearlessness,  the uncanny ease with which he demonstrated his talents and mastery of  practical skills in carpentry, masonry, and electricity needed to transform his father’s rundown house into a decent home for my mother and me in the 1950s. A licensed pharmacist who took pride in his knowledge of Latin and medicine, a gifted photographer, a fine tailor, and an above average farmer, my father had so many talents that all his relatives admired him as a genius.  I too knew him to be a genius.  That fact was a source of despair during my childhood, because some men of genius can be cruel and ruthless in the expectations they have for their children. Although I inherited many of his traits, I never fully measured up to his expectations. My father expressed his disappointment bluntly.  Even today, the sting of his profound criticism wounds me. I feel paralyzed as I write about him.  I have honored my father to ensure that my days will be long, but my gratitude is not love. I have made peace with the horror of being incapable of loving my father. If there is divine peace and justice in whatever dimension my father’s spirit inhabits, I shall only love him when I become a spirit and join him there.

Walking the dark paths of his destiny, my father injured many people psychologically, and he certainly authored some of his own misery by not channeling his remarkable talents wisely. He could alternate between being surprisingly kind and generous and being decidedly mean-spirited.  He was not bipolar.  He was conscious of his actions, but he could be as insensitive as a death-dispensing drone.  During the six decades I have speculated about his life, I have tried to coordinate what I know from having lived with him for fourteen years with the bits of fact and fiction that circulate in our family.  There is much about my father that I still do not know.

I do know that I made a vow not to follow his example.  I chose not to marry, not to be responsible for some patient woman’s having a bittersweet life, not to be the co-partner in giving life to children whom I might resent. As an only child, I am the final chapter in the saga of one branch of my family.  My male cousins have been heroic in being biological fathers, begetting new generations with or without benefit of clergy to continue the family’s story. I chose not to be a symbolic mirror-image of my father.  I have used my existential entitlement not to be a biological father but to assume responsibility for the young males and females I have chosen to be my intellectual sons and daughters.  Selectivity makes it possible for all of my intellectual children to exceed my expectations because they have no obligations to meet them.  Fathering minds brings a sense of fulfillment comparable to fathering bodies.

I shall die a very happy man. My intellectual children, especially my sons, have demonstrated through their creative and scholarly works how purposeful my interventions in their lives have been and continue to be.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                 June 8, 2014

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