Not Taken for Granted

Robert Hayden

I had a very traditional middle-class arrangement growing up. My mother was at home; my father went to work in the morning and was home for dinner. In many ways, despite shouting from the rooftops that I’d never live that life, here I am – in a very traditional middle-class arrangement.  And now I can better appreciate how we viewed my father differently from my mother. His days were more mysterious because they were there, not here.  His discipline was feared and respected because it was not the everyday nagging about chores, homework, creating a ruckus. His attention was much more precious because we didn’t get as much of it all day, every day. His absences were punctuated with surprises like hotel-sized soaps and Lufthansa pins and treats from far away places.

And now, seeing my husband in much the same position, I realize that it’s not an easier or more exotic or more exciting position to be in. It’s just as poignant and exhausting, but in very different ways. Parenting is parenting is parenting. And no matter the role we’ve chosen, the same fears and joys and exasperations blanket the experience.

One of my favorite poems about fatherhood is an appreciation for parenthood’s 24/7 requirements, but it specifically centers on how one father chooses to show his love. “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden acknowledges the comfort that a father sacrifices to provide the same to his child.  Getting up early to heat up a freezing home, polishing shoes for a Sunday service, performing a myriad of thankless (and often unnoticed) tasks for loved ones – all these say “I love you.” It is only later, as is shown in the last stanza below, that the narrator realizes that love is revealed in many forms.

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

For the poem in its entirety, visit The Poetry Foundation’s page. And for a wonderful post and list of father poems (not all filled with adoration – yes, you! Sylvia Plath!), visit the Poems about Fathers page at Poets.org.

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About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to the car culture, dealing with leaving a career I love, and spouting off along the way.
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