I walk a line called fatherhood and my balance is precarious at best. Toes fall over edges smoothed with kind words and late night hugs. Feet slip upon surfaces left wet by tiny tears and early morning accidents.
It is a path that my father walked before me, and his before him, but the scenery is vastly different and always changing.
It is a path that my peers, friends, and men everywhere stand upon, some more firmly than others. Yet the path is my own. It started where I started and it will end where I end. There will be steps backward and jumps ahead, but it will never be alone. There is no harness for fatherhood and there is no net. We are daredevils on a tightrope and to fall is to fail, and to fail is not an option.
I am every man. I am the Great Santini. I am Atticus Finch. I am Cowboy Gil, as in guil-ty.
I have retraced steps to find things dropped hours after their loss and minutes into the crying. I have walked blocks from strange places to find substance in the hours where no child should be hungry. I have looked into my son’s face and said things that embarrass us all.
I have slammed doors and stood behind them as you cried yourself to sleep.
I have slept in your bed, curled around you like a blanket and felt my legs grow slowly numb.
I heal your wounds and you fix me when I am broken. We meet in the middle and find much happiness there.
The line is not straight. It loops and knots and forks, and maps are useless and hard to fold. Road signs consist of frowns and smiles, and we choose our adventures accordingly.
We run, we skip, and we waltz upon it—watching our steps in equal turn with refusing to do so. Some jumps require both feet.
When we pass each other we nod and wave. We tell tales of where we are going and stories of where we have been. And in the distance there are children laughing loudly and growing way too fast, each breath a beacon and a breadcrumb, guiding our footsteps to the place that we call home.
A version of this post first appeared in 2010 on DadCentric.