Parenting is a job that leaves nobody satisfied. Children, like Freudians, lay the blame for all sorts of neuroses at their parents’ feet. Spouses bash one another for inherited faulty genes and difficult personalities. Parents censure with themselves, even — or maybe especially — those who’ve read a book or two on the developing human body, mind and emotions and whose kids give behavioral testimony to their parental units’ having done a pretty good job. Try to compliment one of those, and you’ll hear a litany of nitpicking should-haves.
I, for one, have evolved to illumination on my hundred thousand mistakes and could advise my kids, surviving despite my errors, how to do better themselves — if only they’d listen. That’s probably my fault too, for not listening actively enough to them. Oh, if only I’d read Dr. Spock instead of believing his presence in the house was sufficiently therapeutic.
Fathers and mothers both, gender be darned, we’re all in this job of parenting together. So we’re giving Dad his equal due, equal responsibility in Jane Elkin’s story The Poetry of Parenting, a job so tough that only poets have the words for it. In that spirit, the CalvART Gallery poetry reading where this story began featured two fathers — poets Michael Glaser and Jeffrey Coleman. Jane chose to add open-mike reader Rachel Anastasia Heinhorst, a mother. Herself a poet and parent, Jane included her perspective to balance genders but without altering the conclusion: It’s mostly guesswork, hunch and whim we follow as we lay out our children’s road to independence. At least that’s where we hope they’re headed.
Quibbling aside, occasionally even a parent gets it right.
How very right you’ll see in our paired first-person tributes to fathers on the celebratory occasion of Father’s Day. Diane Knaus, who writes of her father Marlow Hankey, is old enough to be the grandmother of 18-year-old Theodore H. Mattheiss III, who writes of his father Dave Mattheiss.
Diane we’ve known forever, as far back as that old millennium when we were New Bay Times Weekly. It’s been ages, however, since she’s appeared in our pages.
Mattheiss is a brand-new acquaintance, at Bay Weekly intensively for two weeks on the recommendation of his English teacher Amanda Newell (daughter of our contributing writer Diane Burt) to complete his senior internship and get to graduate from The Gunston School. A Stevensville lad, he’s off this fall to Washington College, where we hope that in four years he’ll win the Sophie Kerr prize, the largest undergraduate writing award in the nation. Reading his story, you’ll see we have some grounds for this hope. In the short term, we have a surer bet: that his father Dave — to whom this story comes as a surprise — will weep.
Yes, both of these fathers have gotten it right. On at least one score.
For we’re not going whole hog, let alone whole hippopotamus. Each writer applauds Dad on a single narrow achievement. Diane, who admits to “a curious relationship” with her father, credits him for teaching her by example and apprenticeship how to maintain an auto. Theodore’s sweetly worshipful story lauds his father for inspiring and teaching him to play — and care for — the guitar.
Otherwise, for all we know, fathers Hankey and Mattheiss might have been duds. Like the rest of us parents.
Still, they’ve done something right. Who knows? Maybe we all have, fathers like and mothers alike.
Wait! Did I mean to say that about him? Sure, on Father’s Day, let’s give the guy a little respect.
Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; firstname.lastname@example.org