Ascent of Man
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2006. All rights reserved.

However old I age or whatever career goals I pursue, it seems, I still remain a little boy watching for Daddy to come home.

My father was a working man of the 1960s, responsible for the gross household income, and for him that meant days and weeks on the road selling heating and air conditioning equipment. His father and his father's father were raised on family farms and orchards where the day's work ended at a communal dinner table. He was the first father in his line to take his dinners alone at motel restaurants in far-off cities while his family ate at home before his empty chair.

No one told us this was unusual. No one warned us how we would miss him then, and for years and years to come.

Mom was essential to my physical well-being, fixing meals and attending wounds, but Dad's attention had a direct line to my soul. Mom's praise and encouragement were important, but Dad's approval was a gift of grace.

I see this same hunger for acceptance in my own son, now just a toddler with a handful of words and a fragile understanding of the world. I see him glancing at me from his play, gauging my moods and opinions.

He follows my movements. He memorizes my words and intonations. He smiles when I smile, frowns when I frown, and takes an interest in whatever I do with my hands. It is still a shock to see my thoughts and actions reflected in a one-year-old's behavior.

There are tougher jobs than parenting. Longshoremen lift far heavier weights and ocean-going fishermen endure much greater discomfort. City police on night patrol face more stress and emergency medical teams have to deal with more terrible traumas. But no man's job is more dangerous to him on a personal level than fatherhood. No other occupation threatens as much heartbreak or deeper wounds. The loss of no other livelihood can cost a man not only his life, but his place in eternity.

For my little boy's well-being, I realized early on, there is little I would not suffer. His hurts pain me ten times more than my own. His laughter makes me happier than my own.

If I could spare my son the bumps and bruises and senseless injustices of life then I could save myself the grief of having to see his disillusion. If his spirit survives intact then my heart can go on unbroken.

When I call him to my arms or cheer his first steps I hear the voice of my father and my father's father. In his eyes I catch a glimpse of myself looking back at Dad. In his fingers I feel tomorrow grasping at the present.

My immortality breathes inside that little chest. The only afterlife I can be sure of watches for my return. Coming home, I bring back all the fathers before me.

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