I recently had the profound pleasure of an open water reef dive with my 10 year old son. It was his birthday request, and after he passed his pool cert, we were out on a reef in Key West together doing something I’ve long loved and he recently discovered. It was, along with perhaps birth, first words, first steps and potty training one of the best parenting days of the decade together.
Which got me to thinking of my father and the adventures we shared. I looked up to him, until I didn’t. And then I did again. I call it the fatherhood curve.
In the early days, my dad was larger than life. He was a car mechanic who flipped Model-As for profit when he won a drag race. He went to college on a football scholarship and nearly made the NFL (unverifiable AHS legend). He was a tireless innovator; trying out car phones before there were cell towers, making a local restaurant into a dinner theatre, working from home on Fridays in the 70’s. He led by example, whether it was howing a row for the garden, drop kicking a football, or hitting a baseball. He was endlessly curious about how things worked, whether that was selling life insurance, training a dog, or building a fire. And he took the time to show me how it was done right. When he spoke publicly, which was regularly and confidently, I saw leadership, ethics, and honesty. He had amazing presence; it was said you could close your eyes, and still know when he walked into a room. I believed it.
At least this is how I felt until I was about 10.
And then came the trough of confusion; contrary to what I had first learned… his health was not going to last forever. He stumbled around badly for a decade trying to find a cure for a fairly rare blood disease. In some ways, the treatment was worse than the ailment and went against his beliefs to boot. This affected everything from his ability to focus, work, exercise, and sometimes just have fun. Turned out, his business acumen wasn’t as good as I thought either, or perhaps had become outdated with the pace of innovation or futile under the constraints of his disease. Maybe both. So in truth, he wasn’t infallible at a lot of things- marriage, business, relationships, and health. As a son, this was tough to swallow coming from a place of complete awe to the realization he was quite human.
And then, things changed again.
I called it the ascension into reverence which was set in motion by two events. In the year 2004, we took a trip to retrace the steps of Herbert Sharpless Spencer (and one Paul Matusky) through the battlefields, airstrips, landing zones and command bunkers of World Wars One and Two. And again, what emerged was a father who was indeed grateful, curious and consistently funny. This video pretty much shows a flavor for how his zest for life had returned. Shortly after that, I was proud to make the call telling him that he would be a grandfather once again, and the first Spencer boy was due in October. The relationship from the moment my son was born to the moment my father passed was beyond special, going both ways. If I had any misgivings or disappointments or unmet expectations during the trough of confusion, they melted away like the late evening summer sun over the coastline of Normandy- gradual, inevitable, and peaceful.
It makes me wonder how my curve of fatherhood will go, and what little I can do about it.
The curve of entrepreneurs reminded me of the curve of fatherhood