Family Values
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1996. All rights reserved.

Fatherhood ages a man; parenthood, in general, does the same.
   
Before we became parents, my wife and I lived somewhat outside of time. Days and years went by, seasons came and passed, and we went about the business of pursuing degrees and careers oblivious to the passage of time. We got older, but didn't notice.
   
Now that we have a little boy who was recently a baby and is about to become a preschool child, we see time rushing through us with the urgency of a spring runoff. As the marks on his growth chart climb higher and his shoe sizes double, I feel the present slipping into tomorrow. If only I could hold on to this moment a little longer....




Folks who live their lives in extended families, with grandparents sharing the same roof or living and laboring nearby their children and their babies and grandbabies, probably experience the passage of time more strongly than those who don't. 
They can feel the aging of parents and grandparents when they hold a hand or kiss a cheek. They can see the weakening, shrinking and wrinkling effects of time and recognize that they, too, will follow this course.

 My parents and their parents were all raised in families such as these and so were my wife's relations, but our parents left the family fold like so many other Americans after World War II to pursue their fortunes in far-off places and never returned. We grew up at a distance from our grandparents, seeing them on holidays once or twice a year, and experienced their deaths as sudden disasters rather than as part of the flow of life.
   
Now that I recognize these things and can see how this kind of lifestyle, divorced from the family farm, has become the norm in American society I wonder if some folks avoid family in order to avoid time. If we live where life's seasons are less noticeable, as in southern California, will we remain young?
   
Getting away from family can be liberating, of course, and most of us have been ready, like Huck Finn, to "lit out for the territories" where we'll be free of obligations and expectations. We'll also be free of context and history and, perhaps, meaning.
   
A nation of Huck Finns would be truly independent, each person responsible only to himself and his own self-guided moral code. There would be no taxes, no schools and no government. Life would be a series of adventures lived fully in the moment, with no thought of past or future, because this is all we can be sure of, here and now.
   
Life, after all, arises from nothing and ends in timeless oblivion....
   
But that's not how things are at all! The sun doesn't rise out of nowhere and set for eternity. It dawns again and again and again. The seasons, the tides and the phases of the moon don't begin and end, they rotate.
   
Plants don't emerge from nothing and die back into emptiness. They rise from the seeds of seeds of seeds of plants whose decomposed bodies help feed them. And, in the same sense, our lives are rooted in a past which emerges in the present to flower and fade tomorrow.
   
Time, as I see it, is more a circle or a spiral than a straight line, repeating itself endlessly with slight changes in every turn. Parenthood and family don't turn the clock, but they certainly make its movements more visible.
   
When my little boy asks, "What's tomorrow?" I look into our common future and forecast: "Tomorrow will be a lot like today, but with a few surprises."   

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