A Cut Above

Think of this post as a prelude to Father’s Day, that most enigmatic of holidays. Father’s Day may not go the way of Arbor Day, but, like Rodney Dangerfield, it will never get the respect it deserves. I blame, in part, St. Joseph, who has gone down in history as the “husband of Mary.” There are even entire parishes with that name, including the one in Las Vegas where we held my mother’s funeral in April. St. Joseph was an adopted father, guardian, and protector of the Holy Family. Think of him as the security and concession staff, which sums up fatherhood.

Or does it? Aren’t we more than, as JFK said about his wife, “the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris?” Surely, we do more than “provide and protect,” which sounds like something you’d see on the door of a police car. Fatherhood is more than accompanying others, working all day (or night), taking out the garbage, cleaning the rain gutters, and checking out that noise downstairs, baseball bat at the ready. Ash, please, by the way, not aluminum.

I won’t try to define fatherhood except to say that to be one you need children, which is hardly worth stating and a variation of leaders needing followers. You hear that a lot in business seminars, although it isn’t very helpful. Having children could be by blood, law, or circumstance. I leave out proximity, since in my mind that has more to do with acting in the place of a father (in loco patris) or being a role model. The problem with being a role model is that you don’t have enough skin in the game, which you also hear in business seminars (see Jason & the Jargonauts, At the End of the Day).

I suppose you could make the case that having followers doesn’t necessarily make you a leader, although that seems pretty convincing to me. Having children doesn’t necessarily make you a father, either, but it is a necessary condition. The kind of leader, father, or poet you are is a different story. I include poet here, because I like to say things like so-and-so is a bad poet, but even a bad poet is still a poet. My inspiration comes from Noël Coward through none other than Marilyn Monroe, who in All About Eve (1950) referred to a butler as a waiter, explaining that she couldn’t call out “butler” in case another dinner guest was named Butler. Noël Coward replied, “You have a point…an idiotic one, but a point.”

So, I have a point. And if children are the necessary condition, I am going to take a stand–put my stake in the ground as they also say in the business seminar. Here it is: having children is better than not having them, having more is better than having fewer, and looking out for as many as you can no matter your condition in life is the best.

This is not to accuse anyone of anything or make judgments about lifestyle (e.g., not having kids). This stake in the ground has to do with my own situation. That is, if I were to do it over, I would welcome more kids, which is the opposite of what actually occurred and may come as a surprise to my daughters. By the time I was 25 I had three kids, a house, and a job I commuted to on a train. I may even have worn a gray flannel suit from time to time. I was not the most mature of men, which, if there exists a category for understatement in Guinness World Records, surely ought to be there.

You might be thinking that it’s easy for me to say. My kids are grown and I can bounce my grandkids on my knee after lunch and then return them to their parents. That’s true for the most part, except that they often end up bouncing me around instead. Being a grandfather can be a hazardous occupation. It’s also true that I can leave as fast as they evacuated Bagram Airfield.

Still, the older I get the more I recognize how important children, family, and friends are, which may get me listed in that same records book for clichés. Where is all this headed? To some specific advice, which I don’t usually give except to family members, and even there I’ve stopped. To wit, you want to get the jab, that’s your business. Go ahead. Just don’t get the snip.

Image credits: feature by Eugene Chystiakov; hug by Limor Zellermayer. Like fiction? Check out the two-volume “Mercury trilogy” (The Gringo, Laura Fedora) here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”


  1. Well, Rob, that’s an epiphany on your part I did not see coming. Don’t mistake, I believe any man for who his children thrown an involved and outstanding milestone birthday party is a man who has been an excellent father. And that is you. To toss in some levity, I was asked, more than a few times, why Lee and I never had children (Save for our “adopted” daughter, Sarah). Ironically, the question usually came from a director or crew member on one of a zillion productions for which I labored. My reply was always, “That human need has been filled several times over by having to work with people like you, who turn into nine-year olds the minute they arrive on set . . . if not before.” The same person never asked twice.

    Kudos to you for another excellent article. Really enjoyed this one since I have known you pre-fatherhood, during fatherhood, and ongoing into grandfatherhood. If every man took the responsibility of being the benevolent patriarch which you are, the world would be a much better place. Guaranteed.

  2. Thank you, Robert. Reflecting on your lovely essay, I liked your use of the role of a poet. Yes, one can evaluate a poet as good, bad, effective, or not, but still a poet. I think about fathers in terms of the demands for creativity inherent in their role. As you mention, a lot can be said about the visibility of St. Joseph in his visible roles. One aspect, not often mentioned, is the level of creativity demanded and demonstrated in what we know of the “Acts of St. Joseph.” The same can be said about fathers. Breathtaking acts of creativity are seen in fathers; like poets, whether considered good, bad, effective, or ineffective.
    Like the performances of Bach’s Unaccompanied Suites, for solo cello, it is the incredible demands for creativity on the part of the cellist, unaccompanied, that cause awe, appreciation, and deep reverence for all who witness the acts of poets, cellists, and fathers.
    Felicidades, el Padre Roberto! Creo que , en vista de todos, que reciban sus actos del padre con aprecio y awe.

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