Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The last time my youngest daughter was home from college, I took her to New Hampshire in search of some good, old-fashioned quality time between dad and daughter, far from the madding crowd and even farther from shopping malls.

Things, however, didn’t work out the way I planned. They usually don’t. Our first night there, she was missing in action; and I soon discovered she was standing outside in the cold, smoking a cigarette, beneath the canopy of heaven and 400 billion stars, give or take 100 billion.

The last time my youngest daughter was home from college, I took her to New Hampshire in search of some good, old-fashioned quality time between dad and daughter, far from the madding crowd and even farther from shopping malls.

Things, however, didn’t work out the way I planned. They usually don’t. Our first night there, she was missing in action; and I soon discovered she was standing outside in the cold, smoking a cigarette, beneath the canopy of heaven and 400 billion stars, give or take 100 billion.

She didn’t care about the stars or the planets because she was preoccupied with weightier matters, walking back and forth like the first watch on the Titanic as she tried to get reception on her cell phone so she could talk to a fellow in Ohio she insisted was NOT her boyfriend.

Who invented cell phones, anyway? Even worse, who invented boyfriends? Nevertheless, if your daughter is going to have a boyfriend, I suppose a long-distance boyfriend is the best kind.

The bane of fathers, boyfriends are the inevitable and painful bellwether that a father has, for the most part, become irrelevant, except when it comes to college bills and car insurance premiums.

All this wouldn’t be so painful if I didn’t have to endure an exact replay of this nocturnal ritual by another daughter, who wanders outside at night with a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette and cell phone in the other, conversing with a guy she wishes were her boyfriend.

(Where did they pick up this smoking habit? I haven’t smoked since I was 25, which means to say my wife can’t blame me for this one.)

I’m not sure what my other two daughters do, but from this experience I’m left with the disheartening realization that Dad isn’t enough anymore. Sad to say, I can still remember when they believed Dad had all the answers.

How many of those stars in that vast universe fizzled out during the years I went from being a boyfriend to being a husband to being a father to being an asterisk in the lives of my children? The bottom line is fathers become irrelevant far too soon and seem to have a shelf-life shorter than the average American-made car.

Needless to say, I can’t share these self-pitying meditations with my wife because I know instinctively her response will be to allege, "It’s always about YOU, isn’t it?"

Well, not always, but maybe most of the time, just as I imagine it must be for other fathers who confront that unsettling epiphany when they realize their children don’t need them the same way they needed them once upon a time.

Can I help it if I suffer from self-absorption? To my selfish thinking, I spent my life worrying about five "hers" around me, so it would be great if one of them could break away from her own self-absorption and say, "C’mon, Dad, let’s go to dinner or the pool hall or the summit of Mount Washington."

This must be a dark phase in every father’s life.

Since I could barely keep my eyes open, I went to lie on the bed, which unfortunately happened to be on the side of the house where my daughter was pacing back and forth. I could hear her giggling, which led me to wonder whether I should eavesdrop on what she was saying or cover my head with the pillow.

When I complained to my wife that this long long-distance conversation must be costing a fortune, she reminded me calls are free on weekends.

"Are you sure?" I asked. "What could they possibly be talking about for so long?"

She shrugged and said, "You wouldn’t know because you were never young."

"And I’m proud of it," I replied. "Tell her to come in. It’s cold out, and I don’t want to wake up and find the cell phone frozen to her lips."

I suppose the transformation from the days when my daughters thought Dad was the center of the galaxy to the day I became just another one of 400 billion stars is part of some painful parental learning process.

Will this experience help me learn to love unconditionally, the way Christ wants us to love? Will it bring me closer to that ideal of unselfish love, where there’s no thought of getting something in return or being appreciated for the great things I do?

I’ve never been very good at loving without expecting something in return, but it’s an ability I want to master before I pass into the Great Hereafter – to love as a father and friend with no thought of what’s in it for me. Heck, that can’t possibly be fun.

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.