What is a father?

A father is a man who fails every day. Sometimes things work out: Your flashed message is received and read, your song is recorded by another band and goes straight to No. 1, your son blesses the memory of the day you helped him arrange the empty chairs of his foredoomed dream, your act of last-ditch desperation sends your comic-book company to the top of the industry. Success, however, does nothing to diminish the knowledge that failure stalks everything you do. But you knew that. Nobody gets past the age of ten without that knowledge. Welcome to the club.

Michael Chabon, “The Loser’s Club.”

Whatever successes we might enjoy, or rehearse ad naseum to those forced to hear them over and over again, we fail every day, often in ways we don’t recognize for years. But I can accept that. What distinguishes a father from simply a successfully reproductive male is how he uses those failures, what he learns from them, and how they change him.

A lifetime ago, in those pre-parental years when my greatest failures occurred in sporting events, a friend comforted me by saying: “Winners lose more than losers do.” At first I didn’t really understand what she meant, but after countless additional loses, I slowly began to realize the truth in what she had said.

Now, I think something similar could be said about fathers: “Fathers fail more than other people do.” What makes fathers special is what they do with those failures. Welcome to the club.

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