"There's dad." Today, as always, being a father is complex and necessary

"There's dad."  Today, as always, being a father is complex and necessary

Vincent van Gogh, First Steps, by Millet. 1890, oil on canvas. Public domain image

St. Joseph's day

You need someone who has the courage to "stand" with you in the face of the life that squeezes you, the misunderstandings, the harshness of what you don't understand, in the struggles you will have to overcome alone

"If you want your child to walk honorably through the world, you don't have to clear his path of stones, but you have to help him walk steadily over them. Don't insist on guiding him by taking his hand, but allow him to learn to go by himself".

Anne Brontë, "The Lady of Wildfell Hall"

At the school entrance, two boys are talking animatedly. It's spring and the arm of one of them shows a flashy tattoo. I stand nearby and listen: “Damn how lucky! If I had done this tattoo, my father would have broken me." The other: "Luck is having a father who breaks". A few years have passed since this dialogue but the jolt it causes me remains indelible.

I have met many young fatherless boys. Some have lost it through illness or accident, others after violent separations. A few days ago a student of mine celebrated his birthday. The father disappeared suddenly, without a trace. The boy waited in vain for a call from him. I could still tell stories of suffering, of emptiness, of distance. I could tell about those kids that their parents have them but it's as if they weren't there. Adults surprised by a complex parenting who find themselves alone in educating increasingly mysterious, indecipherable and reactive adolescents. Weak dads and aggressive mothers; violent fathers and slave mothers. Parents who transmit performance anxiety or disinterested in their children's lives, where often it is the kids who leave, confined in the room (we were talking about hikikomori here already a long time ago) or in the social world.

Today is Father's Day and after all the rhetoric, the battles for or against the celebrations, it is undeniable that being a father these days is complex but absolutely necessary. For the son but also for the father. Interesting in this sense is Andrés Neuman's "Umbilical" (Einaudi 2023), a poetic work that the Argentine author dedicates to his son Telmo. Short diary pages, organized into three parts. The first collects the sensations, thoughts and feelings of a father who, addressing his son, writes: "I miss you without even knowing you". The second part narrates the coexistence with the little one, the daily life inside the home. In the last one, the author gives voice to that child, with the father who "enters" the child, imagining what is happening in his head.

Even the writer Marco Balzano has published "Do you remember, dad?" (Feltrinelli 2023), a series of short exchanges of sentences between father and son that trace the path of knowledge and awareness between the two. In the dialogue between children and parents you don't need many words, my father taught me, a farmer who recalls the one described by the Potentino poet Leonardo Sinisgalli. "The man who returns only late in the evening from the vineyard […] The man who wears so fresh dirt on his shoes, smell of cool evening in his clothes […] A living point on the horizon”. My father was just like that, far away but deeply close. Dedicated only to work, hard work. Certainly not the "dad - friend" in fashion today in the relationship between adults and young people. He, on the other hand, was shy to the point of bordering on silence, unable to ask except through my mother, worried without showing it. Little pedagogy, no psychology. I learned about my father through his belongings, his farm tools and prayer booklets, his walking stick and his small car. In the most difficult moments, I remember he would only say "stè papa" (there's dad) and family life continued as before. Now that dialectal exclamation is clarified in all its depth, it acquires a meaning that in the past seemed impenetrable, the sense of a hypothetical answer to what our children lack today. You need someone who has the courage to "stand" with you in the face of the life that squeezes you, the misunderstandings, the hardness of what you don't understand, in the struggles you'll have to overcome alone. In that "stè papa" there is the certainty of a presence that goes beyond physicality and time, the affirmation of a bond for eternity.

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