By Barb Arland-Fye
My husband Steve entered fatherhood with his eyes wide open, watching our obstetrician help our firstborn son to breathe on his own. Steve always wanted a family but it happened later in life than he anticipated. From the beginning, he accepted and managed whatever challenges fatherhood would bring.
The early years with Colin were alternatingly joyful and frustrating. Steve has always been a hands-on father, juggling work and parenting responsibilities so that both of us could continue our careers while addressing the special needs of our son, diagnosed with autism at age 3.
I remember coming home one evening from work to find Steve giving our then toddler-aged son a bath. The two of them were absorbed in their interaction and did not notice me at first. The love between them was palpable.
We moved to LeClaire when Colin was 4-1/2 and enrolled him in school. Daycare was hard to come by for a child with autism, so Steve — a locomotive engineer who loved on-the-road assignments — worked third shift in the main yard to accommodate our family’s needs. He never complained, always the steady presence who wiped away our tears of frustration but also helped us to laugh.
Our second son, Patrick, entered the world 7-1/2 years after Colin and both boys developed their dad’s passion for trains — real and model. Almost all of our vacations have included train watching or riding. What other family has made a stop at a “hump yard” to watch train switching?
An image remains engrained in my mind: 4-year-old Patrick holds an expensive locomotive engine model in his hands after dropping it on the floor. The locomotive’s underpinnings are ruined. This was not the first, nor the last, dropped model locomotive. Steve does not berate but simply reminds Patrick, for the umpteenth time, to be careful handling the locomotives.
Through the years, Steve has remained remarkably calm in his interactions with his sons, although occasionally he develops an edge in his voice when Colin asks the same question in different ways a dozen times (needing reassurance that everything will be OK). Or when Patrick was in high school and repeatedly resisted our requests to practice his bass clarinet.
Steve taught Colin how to shave and helped him put the spacers on his teeth when he had braces. One night, not long after Steve taught Colin to shave, our son entered the family room to sit down and watch the late-night news with us. He didn’t say a word about the bits of Kleenex plastered all over his face where he had unsuccessfully tested his shaving skills. I still laugh thinking about that night. No dad is a saint, but perhaps a saint in the making, and our sons have given him plenty of material to work with!
In his apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis says “God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be ‘close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship. And to be close to his children as they grow — when they play and when they work, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent …” (No. 177).
The pope has not met Steve, but he certainly is describing him. Happy Father’s Day to all men who embrace that role!
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)