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Snapshot of Fatherhood

A Snapshot of Fatherhood

Father's day came and went and although no men reside permanently in my home anymore (my husband died, my sons fledged and have started families of their own) I had a front row seat on the spectacle of modern fatherhood right in my own dining room, more or less the nerve center of my home.

Both sons were visiting from afar, both in town on business for a week. One arrived with wife and 7-month-old son, in part to introduce the baby to the bulk of the family and friends back East. But both took much pride and pleasure in being with the baby. I'm not sure there is any reward on earth that can match what I feel when I watch the affection they openly give to each other and to their kiddies. I know, the evolutionary psychologists (Attn: Satoshi Kanazawa, Jesse Bering) will tell me it's just the long cord of my DNA as it ups and wires my brain. But I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that at the very least, there's some kind of special juice, with its own magnetic field, that flows through those wires.

Sibling survival

Sometimes I am amazed that my sons survived into adulthood. There were times I thought they'd kill each other when younger. Something akin to murder occasionally took place in the car. I suspect there is a special toxin that thrives in the back seats of station wagons-part gasoline fumes, part confinement, part ennui, and part limited vision-and afflicts siblings even on medium hauls, because nothing akin to that mayhem took place at home, at least to my knowledge. And yet, they always had affection for each other. It especially flourished as they got older and went off to college, four years apart. I attribute that capacity for the free exchange of affection to the fact that neither one was ever compared to the other, neither was ever humiliated in the name of the other. Oh, yeah, and they are both quite articulate and share a wacky, but kind, sense of humor. But who really knows?

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Frequent fliers

Make no mistake, they had their differences with each other-mostly expressed to me-even as proto-adults. If one was sweating while the other just cruised into the perfect job or the perfectly affordable house, I heard the blowing off of steam. Their girlfriends-turned-wives joined the hubbub and it helped that everyone enjoyed getting together. But nothing suggested the kind of filial affection that flowered when first one, then, four years later, the other became fathers.

There were frequent video chats, often at breakfast time, complete with Cheerios or blueberries handed off via the screen. There were trips across the country to visit each other. Sometimes I was there, too, sometimes not. One flew a few thousand miles to help the other move into his first home when the first baby was just a few weeks old. There was a first birthday when the most exiting thing all of us seemed to do was sit on the porch and sip lemonade, but the supreme ease of that weekend made all of us feel as if we'd taken a long vacation. I've already told you about a fantastic New Year's Day spent organizing a closet (yes, I said fantastic).

Guncle and Duncle

When the older one became a father, he asked his younger brother what he would like to be called. Maybe he was simply following a brand new family tradition; I had eschewed Grandma and selected from left field the short, sweet and very Dutch "Oma." Goofing around, my younger son took the first initial of his name, hooked it onto uncle and created his own silly moniker-"Guncle." And immediately retracted it. But it was too late, at least for times of high and inside silliness (which is as often as possible in my family). You can't say "Guncle" without at least smiling; it's that ridiculous a sound. We took pleasure in saying it. Turnaround being fair play, when Guncle became a father a few months ago, his brother automatically received the mock mantle of "Duncle." For all their goofiness, those monikers can't quite conceal all the affection and sensed specialness of the uncle, and brotherly, relationship.

One baby, two fathers

It wasn't supposed to be that way, but courtesy of a cancelled flight, the brothers were both at their boyhood home on Father's day morning. I woke up to find both of them on the dining room floor hacking around with one chubby baby. The older one would see his own two little ones later in the day. In the meantime, he took all his Dad and Duncle charm and focused it on the baby at hand. The baby's mama was cool enough to stand back and let the big boys have some floor time together-and to capture the moment on camera. I treasure the photo because, while you can't see the DNA, you just know that, at the very least, there's a real strong magnetic field.

See you next month. And don't hesitate to post an informed comment on any of the blog entries any time.

Hara Estroff Marano is Editor at Large of Psychology Today and author of A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting.

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