Toronto Sun

June 13, 1999

Overcoming the sins of the father

By HARTLEY STEWARD
Toronto Sun

I will admit that I have little earned the right to get so much joy from my two children. Due to two failed marriages, I was there for them only part-time.

It is a black mark, for sure, and perhaps the reason I so envy and admire those who have been close while their children grew into adults.

But this is not a confession of my sins. It is, rather, an ode of sorts to the generosity and wisdom of children. And a tribute to mothers who do not turn their sons and daughters against a father with weaknesses.

I am grateful.

In this age when court battles rage over who will possess the children and accusations of misconduct fill the legal documents, perhaps there is a lesson here for some. There certainly is for me.

If I could wish one thing for children whose parents are in conflict, it is that the adults be as prescient and as magnanimous as my two former wives.

My son, Bart, who is a gathering force in the hi-tech world of computer programs and Internet uses, could have used a father closer at hand as he glumly made his way through public and high school.

He could run like a deer, for sure, but he couldn't defend himself worth a damn and he struggled mightily at team sports (although I'm not sure he's prepared to admit that, even yet). And he played the flute. He played it, and still does, like very few people can. But it was still a flute and not an acoustic guitar. Need I say more?

But with intermittent encouragement from his father and wrapped in a blanket of love and understanding by his mother, he grew into an accomplished and exceedingly warm young man.

He had every reason to emerge on the other side of adulthood bitter and hurt. So many do.

He could see the "normal" families around him and knew at a painfully young age, he hadn't one. Wise child, he knew, too, he was missing something grand.

Still, he was up for the weekends his father found time to share with him. He flew kites with the wonder only children can bring to such a pastime. He played catch and tried to hit softly lobbed baseballs with an awkward enthusiasm that would have broken the devil's heart, let alone mine.

He endured my absence in silence and greeted my visits with detailed stories of his own adventures as if I had a right to share in them.

"You should have been there, dad. The elephants got in a circle and held on to each other's tails."

Should have been there, indeed.

Yet for reasons I could not understand, and don't really to this day, the bond between father and son grew even as the estrangement in the marriage continued. Even as I, my demons in tow, pursued a personal and professional life beyond him and his mother, he was there, whenever I was, with the total acceptance and the simple, unjudgmental understanding of the very young that this is the way things are.

He seemed not to be able to stop loving me as a son loves a father.

What a wondrous dimension to the human condition that is. And I am the thankful recipient of its consequence.

Once, perhaps 10 years ago, when he was pursuing a professional musical career, I attended a rehearsal and recording session at a studio in a friend's basement. One of the group urged Bart to play me a song he had written. He sat down at the piano and played a wonderful and gentle melody. I didn't know he could play the piano, let alone write a song.

I had just recently bought a guitar and a beginner's book of chords. He asked me if I wanted him to teach me the guitar. "You play the guitar, too?" I asked.

"No, I don't," he told me. "But if you want me to teach you, I'll learn."

Today, I presume to say, we are friends. The boy who loved me as a child seems to love me as a man. It is almost too much to bear. He shares with me the triumphs and tribulations of his professional life and last year he introduced me to the woman he is going to marry this year.

I will never find words to tell them how touched, how flattered I am to be included in their circle.

Is there a compliment more powerful? Is there a man more fortunate? Is there a mother who was more wise?

Copyright© 1999, Canoe Limited Partnership.