Friday, June 13, 2014

The Ghost and Mr. Gammage

I have written before about The Ghost at the Feast: the birth mother.  Very recently, I have written about a book that has been so helpful to me during the process of adopting our daughter and becoming a father (two ENTIRELY different things!), China Ghosts by Jeff Gammage.  By coincidence, my wife found a more recent article by Gammage where the ghost of the birth FATHER makes his appearance:

One night last summer, I was putting my 10-year-old daughter [Zhao Gu] to bed when she gave me the news:

"Dad, you're the best dad in the entire world . . ."

Oh, I answered, thank you!

" . . . except for my birth-dad."

Now, it occurs to me (from my safe position as a spectator) that it's perfectly normal for a child to sooner or later have somebody other that his father occupy the #1 slot on his list of People I Admire Most in the World.  In my case, that honor has been held variously by Presidents Washington and Jackson, Admiral Nimitz, Winston Churchill and Alvin York.  This is not at all to say that I don't love and honor my father or that I would trade him for any of the men I've just named (imagine having Andrew Jackson, bloody Andrew Jackson, as a father!).  I simply say that it's normal for a child to find somebody he admires, a process made easier by the fact that the person he knows only through TV, books or his imagination never sends him to bed early, punishes him for not cleaning his room or does any of the other unpleasant things that fathers have to do.  As Gammage notes, his daughter MIGHT have chosen some pop star!

Still, Gammage has much the attitude towards this unknown man that I think I would towards Caroline's biological father:

I think we would have a lot to say to each other, not all of it pleasant.


Gammage also brings up a related topic: what is expected of us as fathers?

The other day, Zhao Gu brought me her copy of Romeo and Juliet, wanting to dissect the plot structure. She left disappointed to realize her dad doesn't know much about Shakespeare.

I am reminded of the scene in "It's a Wonderful Life" where the adolescent George Bailey, realizing that Mr. Gower, drunk and shattered by the death of his son, has accidentally put poison into a child's prescription.  George wonders what to do and sees an advertisement: "Ask Dad: He knows!"

Yes, Dad is ALWAYS supposed to know.  Just look at Mike Brady or Ozzie Nelson or Dr. Benton Quest or any other TV dad who always had the answer. 

Well, of course we (may a man who's been a father for less than a month say "we"?) don't always know the Right Answer to Life's Little Problems anymore than we know how to dissect the plot structure of Romeo and Juliet.  We do the best that we can, hoping to get it right at crunch time.  Gammage writes about this in his book:

Now that I'm a father, now that I'm the age my parents were when they were raising me, I know: they were making it up.  The were doing their best to apply their knowledge and experience in a way that seemed appropriate to the situation.

I will not always know what to do and I regret to say that I'm pretty sure that my daughter will figure this out pretty quickly, though I hope I'm rather more Mike Brady than Homer Simpson!  But, like Gammage, his father, my father, and all those fathers stretching back to old Adam (and including both the man who is responsible for my daughter's birth and the splendid fellow who cared for her for sixteen months in China), I will do the best that I can.

And that includes trying to be graceful if, one day, Caroline informs me that I'm #2 on her list, taking a backseat to the Ghost.

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