Life changes offer different views of fathers

Published 10:55 am Sunday, June 17, 2007

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. That’s what all the books and sappy TV shows and Lifetime original movies imply.

Although generally attributed to the love between a man and a woman, the line applies to almost all relationships.

Bump into an old friend years after you parted ways over some disagreement and most are quick to let bygones be bygones.

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Lose someone close to you suddenly or not so suddenly, and you’ll quickly discover just how deeply his or her death hurts you emotionally.

In an instant, all of the things that you said or wish you’d said comes rushing back.

Today families all across the country will celebrate Father’s Day. Ties will be given; perhaps Dad will get a special lunch prepared or a big hug from his children.

New fathers will begin beaming with joy as they look into the tiny frail faces of their newborns. Tears of joy and moments of shear terror are likely to follow.

Fathers are supposed to be firm, proud and resolute.

They’re supposed to be 10 feet tall and bulletproof, at least in the eyes of their children.

Mark Twain was famously quoted as having said some pretty apt words about fatherhood:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Reader’s Digest attributed those two powerfully telling sentences to Twain in 1937. No one seems certain whether or not Twain actually said or wrote those words.

Regardless, the simple lines contain serious truths about those interesting creatures we call, “Daddy.”

The bond between a parent and a child is a special one.

If a young girl gets into trouble with her life and goes the wrong direction, she’s still her Daddy’s little girl. As small children, Daddies seem like giants. Their large hands swallow ours as they clutch our hands. Their shoes seem enormous, almost clown-like, when we sneak a foot into one of them in Dad’s closet.

They are, from a child’s perspective almost mythical in nature — huge creatures, wielding almost limitless power.

As we grow older, as Twain’s purported quote illustrates, we often go through a series of phases. First we think Dad has lost his mind. He’s not cool; he’s embarrassing.

Then, as we get older we realize he’s pretty useful after all. Then we begin seeing that Dad was human, not a mythical creature, just a guy trying to do the best he could.

Then, sometimes suddenly, he’s gone.

Unfortunately, today, though, as millions of families celebrate the living dads, just as many are remembering the dead.

On the pages of this newspaper last week, a number of fathers were memorialized in obituaries. Those 10-foot tall, bulletproof Daddies left behind surviving sons and daughters.

Men such as Robert Graze, a retired Armstrong Tire and Rubber Co. worker, and Robert Simonton, a retired journalist, educator and poet.

Both men lived long, full lives, reaching into their 80s, but almost certainly each of them was still “Daddy” up until the end.

Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it doesn’t make the memories any less moving.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or