Rutter: How great and terrible to have a graceful dad
Welcome to the Island of Dented Dads. I am the mayor.
Have a seat. The Father’s Day quiz will start momentarily.
We’re just trying to figure out who dad really is. If he had not been your father, which is mostly a cosmic roll of the genome dice, would he have been a dynamic, keen life force that you’d have sought as a friend?
With enough strength of character, this works as self-evaluation, too. If you were not your children’s father, would they find you exhilarating or somewhere south of Dullsburg? Your children are just one stray, mutated chromosome away from being total strangers.
The second question probably will not make you feel so bubbly this Father’s Day. Maybe you’ve had 40 or so years to get this father thing right and never got the hang of it. You theoretically can learn to be a great dad. I doubt the theory.
Even having a great father does not help you become one. He achieved the serene plateau of flawless fatherhood with so little apparent exertion. It seems like a magic trick. We mimic the model, but it never works for us. It’s like asking Fred Astaire how he got to be so graceful.
Seeing a natural master of life when you are not one can make you feel permanently flawed. Take it from me.
I had a great father. He was mysterious, noble, intelligent and indefatigable. He was a war hero who forgot to mention that until he was 80.
He was ept, even if there is no such word. As the Son of Ept, I was decidedly Mister Inept. There was not a talent I possess that he could not do better.
This is not some sad-sack attempt to elicit sympathy because you don’t really know who I am and are unlikely ever to find out. So trolling for ersatz understanding is pointless and pathetic.
But perhaps the lessons of my father can be educational and, if your children read this, they might even claim to recognize you in the flicker of the words. That might be the greatest gift you get Sunday.
Here’s who Fred Arthur Rutter was.
He loved his children unconditionally, though we never deserved that, especially his two sons. We were jerks.
He protected us from every peril, even ones we didn’t know existed. He often worked two jobs, just so we could attend parochial school as mother wished.
He sacrificed for us and others without expecting credit and even acknowledgement. He lived with courage and steadfastness. I witnessed that courage.
He was honest when no one was looking.
He taught us to keep our word, to be generous and tolerant. He asked us to be better, though he gave us room to fail if we demanded extra rope.
He loved mom and showed it, even while we watched them grow old together. They never had a public argument in 55 years of marriage. It would have been graceless.
He believed he was never more than an average, hard-working stiff. He doubted he was as good a man as he had wanted to become. But he was.
He disciplined with an open, gentle heart. He was afraid, with some evidence, that without a nudge here and there, we would turn out to be savages.
But what he could not teach was an ebullient, personal grace. He was The Natural. That was his alone.
He had been a great kid athlete, and his balance extended to every habit, even his bad ones. He could effortlessly roll a cigar from one side of his mouth to the opposite side without allowing the burning ember to drop its ash.
He sang with a rich baritone. He played a wonderful trombone. I could not beat him at the basketball shooting game “h-o-r-s-e” until he was deep into his 60s.
He suffered his wife’s passing with a deep, quiet melancholy.
And when he laid his head down to sleep on the night of June 4, 2004, he would never awaken. In the depth of the night, he took one last, whispered breath, and maybe his soul reached out to seek mom’s hand in the darkness.
Even in death, he was the most graceful, sublime man I had ever known.
Every day, especially on Father’s Day, I regret profoundly that I am so little like him.
Contact David Rutter at firstname.lastname@example.org