‘Son, I'm Proud of You'
Copyright 2008 by Neil Chethik – www.NeilChethik.com
Each year when Father's Day approaches, I'm reminded of the most important words my father ever said to me.
The year was 1984, I was 27 years old, between journalism jobs, living just a few blocks from the small Miami Beach apartment my paternal grandfather had set up after his retirement. It was the first time in my life that Grandpa was close-by, and along with meals of pot roast and potatoes, I soaked up the stories of his harrowing childhood in Eastern Europe, desperate emigration, and eclectic life that spanned the century.
Then one day I got a phone call from a doctor. "I'm sorry to tell you this," came the voice, "but your grandfather has had a heart attack, and he has expired."
The next day, my father flew to south Florida from his home in Michigan. I picked him up at the airport, and we drove in silence to the hospital to identify Grandpa's body, collect his watch and wallet, and make arrangements to ship the body north for burial at my grandmother's side.
Then my father turned the key to my grandfather's home, and we began sorting the material remnants of the old man's life. We discovered curled black-and-white photos from the early years, key-chains from more recent times, passbooks, matchbooks, coins, coupons, and a pack of stale generic cigarettes. Working in different rooms, we'd occasionally exclaim to each other about a special find. Mostly we sorted in silence.
We kept at it until the glow of the afternoon sun had waned. Then my father and I collapsed in my grandfather's heavily pillowed living-room chairs, glasses of the old man's scotch in hand. We shared memories for awhile, then quiet. Finally, as the room faded into near-total darkness, I heard a guttural groan. At first, I was startled. Then I realized what was happening. I had never before heard my father cry.
I rose, and knelt by his side. After a couple of minutes, he spoke. "I am crying not only for my father, but for me," he said. "His death means I'll never hear the words I've always wanted to hear from him: that he was proud of me, proud of the family I'd raised and the life I've lived."
And then my father directed his voice toward me, and he uttered the words that continue to resound. "So that you never have to feel this way too," he said, "I want to tell you now how proud I am of you, of the choices you've made, of the life you've created."
Much of the pain that is inherent in father-son relationships dissolved for me in the calming resonance of that blessing. And in the months that followed, I felt stronger, more confident, especially as I re-started my career.
In the years since my father's pronouncement, I've discovered that father-pride is a prominent theme in many father-son relationships. Our mothers can shape us in myriad ways, but it is generally our fathers from whom we seek a blessing.
So this Father's Day, as we fathers accept gifts from our sons, let us remember the gift that so many of them desire, but will not request. Simple words, expressed sincerely: “Son, I'm proud of you.”
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Neil Chethik is a writer and speaker. He is author of FatherLoss: How sons deal with the deaths of their dads (Hyperion) and VoiceMale: What Husbands Really Think of Their Wives (Simon & Schuster). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.NeilChethik.com .
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