High Fives for Highlights High Five

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

My mom bought a Highlights High Five sub­scrip­tion for Abraham a few years ago. He loves it, and I make sure to leave it in the mail­box for his re­trieval each time a new is­sue ar­rives. Reading to Abraham is al­ways great fun, but I am quite con­scious of how dif­fi­cult it is to find books that fea­ture father/​child in­ter­ac­tion. The per­cent­age is ter­ri­bly small rel­a­tive to books with moms in them. Once upon a time I Asked Metafilter for rec­om­men­da­tions of books with heav­ily fea­tured fa­thers, and re­ceived quite a few great ti­tles that I’ve since added to our li­brary.

In the two years Abraham has had his High Five sub­scrip­tion, I no­ticed a sim­i­lar trend and fi­nally de­cided to write a let­ter to the ed­i­tor about it. It went much bet­ter than I ex­pected. Our ex­change is be­low, shared with her per­mis­sion.

Kathleen,

My 4 year old son and I look for­ward with great an­tic­i­pa­tion to re­ceiv­ing our monthly sub­scrip­tion to High Five. He im­me­di­ately tears out all of the lit­tle ads just like I did with my Highlights sub­scrip­tion when I was his age. At first his fa­vorite sec­tion was the hid­den pic­tures (again, just like me), but now as he’s start­ing to read a bit, he en­joys Tex and Indi the most.

Your mag­a­zine helps provide a lot of fun, ed­u­ca­tional, qual­ity time with my boy. As a sin­gle par­ent, I try to max­i­mize those at­trib­utes when we play to­gether. Thank you so much for the ex­cel­lent work you and your staff do each month.

There’s only one as­pect of the magazine’s con­tent that both­ers me: the dis­tinct lack of in­volved dads in most is­sues. In the most cur­rent is­sue (October 2012) there are only two pages (12, 16) with a fa­ther present. In con­trast, moth­ers and fe­male fig­ures are in­volved in much of the rest of this is­sue (pp. 2, 4, 7 – 8, 13, 20, 22 – 23, 26, 30) and most oth­ers. I make a dis­tinc­tion be­tween “pres­ence” and “in­volve­ment” here, be­cause when fa­thers ap­pear in your mag­a­zine, they’re of­ten not ac­tively en­gaged with car­ing and learn­ing with the chil­dren. For ex­am­ple, in the cur­rent is­sue, the Papa squir­rel on page 16 is just be­ing watched by the child squir­rel, they aren’t bury­ing nuts to­gether.

This is not an is­sue that af­fects your mag­a­zine alone; I have a heck of a time find­ing children’s books that fea­ture father/​child in­ter­ac­tion as well.

I think if you be­gin to in­clude more in­volved dads in your mag­a­zine you will provide an ex­am­ple to all chil­dren that dads can be in­volved in their kid’s lives. Additionally, you will be teach­ing lit­tle boys that they can and should be in­volved with their own chil­dren one day.

It might be nice to start with Tex and Indi’s dad. I as­sumed their mom was a sin­gle par­ent for quite a few is­sues un­til dad made a brief ap­pear­ance.

I’d be happy to cor­re­spond with you fur­ther in this re­gard and the boy and I are al­ready ea­gerly await­ing the November is­sue.

Sincerely,

Adam Harvey

A few days later I re­ceived this re­sponse:

Dear Adam,

Thank you so much for writ­ing. I’m pleased to hear that you and your son are en­joy­ing High Five. And I’m sorry that since you’ve been sub­scrib­ing, you’ve no­ticed a lack of fa­thers in our sto­ries.

I can tell you that in November, Dad helps Tex and Indi make the Thanksgiving stuff­ing, and in the verse a mom and a dad and their son help make a pump­kin pie. Then, in December, in the English/​Spanish story, a lit­tle girl goes out in the snow with her Dad. There’s no in­di­ca­tion that there is a Mom in that story. We also pub­lish sto­ries about Bert and Beth who live with their grand­fa­ther. We do try to make sure that all kids see them­selves re­flected in the pages of our mag­a­zine, and that in­cludes dif­fer­ent types of fam­i­lies.

But I’m also very glad to have heard from you. Your let­ter prompted me to swap out a Mom and re­place her with a Dad in a story that will ap­pear in early spring. It’s al­ways good to be re­minded — so thanks for tak­ing the time to write.

Sincerely,

Kathleen

What a great re­sponse! I half-ex­pected some sort of form let­ter, but in­stead I re­ceived thought­ful­ness, un­der­stand­ing, and speci­fic ex­am­ples ad­dress­ing my is­sue. And the ic­ing on the cake is a lit­tle bit more “dad” in the mag­a­zine. It’s nice to know that Highlights still has the best in­ter­ests of chil­dren at heart. This re­sponse even mit­i­gates the nearly un­for­giv­able fact that they never did pub­lish my Ram Bo Jackson draw­ing that I sent in when I was 8.

My Dad Died

Saturday, 19 February 2011

My dad died awhile back, on Wednesday, 19 January 2011. He was di­ag­nosed with lung can­cer in the lat­ter half of 2010, had a lung re­moved, and then de­vel­oped an un­treat­able in­fec­tion.

Don’t smoke, peo­ple.

The Past

Here’s the thing: shame though it may be, for me, my dad died one sum­mer af­ter­noon about 17 years ago. As a 13 year-old, I jumped out of the 1970 Pontiac GTO (that I helped him re­store) on Western Avenue & 18th Street in Connersville, Indiana. He was yelling about how he was go­ing to beat the hell out of me when we got to his home. My fa­ther died dur­ing the ter­ror of those min­utes in the car, while I fever­ishly weighed the op­tions on how best to pro­tect my­self. I never drive past the ram­shackle house halfway down that block with­out re­mem­ber­ing.

At first it wasn’t like he’d died, but grew into death as the years rolled by. Throughout high school and ta­per­ing off in col­lege there were awk­ward in­stances at cross-coun­try meets, cards wish­ing me Happy Birthday & the like. I was un­able to rec­on­cile the man he ap­peared to be in pub­lic (which seemed an act to me) with the man who once spent an en­tire day of vis­i­ta­tion dri­ving me around in his van and yelling at me & my mom for mak­ing his other chil­dren bas­tards in the eyes of the Catholic Church. I was un­able to rec­on­cile the man who said he wanted to be a part of my life with the man who fought tooth & nail to avoid con­tribut­ing to my up­bring­ing & ed­u­ca­tion.

He was eas­ier to for­get as those at­tempts at in­ter­ac­tion came fewer and far­ther be­tween. Once I started my blog, I knew he read it, he left strange, stilted com­ments from time to time, but by then it was easy to just see these as com­ing from one more stranger among the bunch. The awk­ward at­tempts to com­mu­ni­cate with me via the oc­ca­sional card, email for­wards, blog com­ments & prox­ies were the my fa­ther could do. I think he had a per­ma­nent vic­tim men­tal­ity. This al­lowed him to twist the wrongs he did to oth­ers into wrongs done unto him. There is no need to ad­mit mis­takes or ask for for­give­ness (two things I never heard or saw him do) when one is the chronic vic­tim. Repeat the spin enough and oth­ers will be­lieve it, re­peat it long enough and you’ll start to be­lieve it your­self.

In high school, one of my teach­ers (and a one­time friend of my fa­ther) had a talk with me about his aborted re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther . He con­fided in me that his one re­gret in life was that he didn’t make peace with his fa­ther when he had the chance. I wasn’t any­where near a place where I could have done that when I was given that ad­vice, but it has al­ways stuck with me. I fre­quently thought about con­tact­ing my fa­ther, but con­tin­u­ally put it off, some­times through my own re­luc­tance, but some­times that de­ci­sion was re­in­forced through the ac­tions of peo­ple close to him. I’ve re­ceived hate-filled emails through the years, most long-since deleted, but here’s a re­cent sam­ple, from a com­plete stranger:

Hey, can I be any clearer now? Do I have your at­ten­tion? I know Don has kept in touch with you and let you know what is go­ing on, but I dont know if you seem to un­der­stand the sever­ity of this sit­u­a­tion. Are you re­ally that shal­low that you are go­ing to al­low your own fa­ther, who gave you life, to go through this surgery, that he may or may NOT live through, and never let him meet his grand­son? You are a sick, pa­thetic ex­cuse for a per­son and you have no feel­ings. My kids are so hurt by this. He is their grandpa and they love him and he treats them won­der­ful and they dont judge him by mis­takes he has made in the past. I am cry­ing on a nightly ba­sis and pray­ing to God that he makes it through and you cant even reach out to him in his time of need. He is not even my fa­ther, but he has treated me like a daugther since the day we met.…..You should be ASHAMED of your­self. Every year that man has bought Christmas presents for you and they have just piled up in a closet in his and my moms house be­cause you never had the guts to show up. BEMAN ADAM and let your boy meet his grand­fa­ther. Stop run­ning. You are go­ing to re­gret this de­ci­sion for the rest of your life if he dosnt make it through the surgery. Please make peace. Your dad wants to be a fa­ther to you and ALWAYS has. Sorry your mom ru­ined that for you but your old enough to make your own de­ci­sions now. Be the adult and face him and let him know you give a damn. He loves you with all of his heart and it makes me sick the way he aches to meet his grand­son and wants to see you. You make me SICK. You so de­serve an ass beatin!!!! I wish we could have been friends or fam­ily but you re­fused to let that hap­pen and I tried to give you the benifit of the doubt over the years and keep my opin­ion of you to my­self but se­ri­ously, how do you look at your­self in the mir­ror every­day? ????

Do the right thing for your son Adam. Stop be­ing self­ish and think­ing about your­self. The world dosnt re­volved around you. Are you old enough to un­der­stand that yet???

MAN UP BOY.…MAN UP!!!!!!!

Whenever I thought that rec­on­cil­i­a­tion was a pos­si­bil­ity I would re­ceive a re­minder of the un­healthy en­vi­ron­ment I’d been de­lib­er­ately avoid­ing. I’ve never felt the need to ac­cept that neg­a­tiv­ity into my life.

Things could have been much dif­fer­ent these past 17 years if at any point in that time I had got­ten the sense from him that he had changed in any way, but that never hap­pened. In some ways, I’m still that scared 13 year-old boy when think­ing of my fa­ther, and I think my fa­ther was never able to see me as more than the scared 13 year-old boy he didn’t un­der­stand. Not only did I never get an in­di­ca­tion from him that he had changed, but bits and drib­bles of ru­mor made their way to me through a va­ri­ety of sources that con­firmed my sus­pi­cions. Once my son was born, I started hear­ing from peo­ple that he would show folks a pic­ture of Abraham and tell them “That’s as close as I’m ever go­ing to get to meet­ing him.” I think the only way he knew to get at­ten­tion from oth­ers was to ma­nip­u­late them into giv­ing him what he wanted.

For 17 years there have been things that I’ve needed to dis­cuss with my fa­ther; now I will no longer have a chance to do so. It might be cow­ardice on my part for never hav­ing at­tempted to make those tough con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen, and I think I bear a small amount of re­spon­si­bil­ity (the same re­spon­si­bil­ity any per­son has for re­solv­ing un­fin­ished busi­ness with an­other) for not hav­ing con­tacted him once I was ma­ture enough to know my own mind, but a greater re­spon­si­bil­ity lay upon him to seek amends with me. Not once in the 17 years of our es­trange­ment did he ap­proach me forth­rightly, con­tritely or non-ma­nip­u­la­tively. The ap­proaches were al­ways oblique, con­de­scend­ing, re­tarded, as if he could not no­tice the gi­ant red flag of his abuse. I don’t know, maybe he couldn’t see it. Nothing could be eas­ier than to spread blame around; the fact re­mains that the sit­u­a­tion will al­ways re­main a sad one. It’s a shame; es­pe­cially since I for­gave my fa­ther years ago. However, for­give­ness is only pro­duc­tive when it is shared with some­one who seeks it; and for­giv­ing some­one for an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship does not re­quire main­te­nance of that re­la­tion­ship. I made my peace with him, but he never gave him­self the chance to find out.

For 17 years I didn’t want the grow­ing pile of Christmas presents in his closet, I wanted my fa­ther to re­spect him­self, our re­la­tion­ship, and me enough to say that he was sorry.

A lot of buried bit­ter­ness per­co­lated to the top in this sec­tion. I’ve known about it and rec­og­nized it for years, and since I’ve done that, along with know­ing and rec­og­niz­ing other dan­ger­ous emo­tions and prob­a­bil­i­ties that are my in­her­i­tance from my dad, I’ve been able to chan­nel them into pro­duc­tive en­ergy, to­wards my­self, my son, my kith & kin. And bit­ter­ness is a pas­sive emo­tion; I bore and bear my fa­ther no ill will; I was sad­dened to hear of his can­cer and de­cline in the same way I would be sad­dened by hear­ing that news about any per­son that I know.

The Future

Because I’ve lived over half my life with­out a fa­ther, I’ve had to learn most of what it means to be a man on my own. That’s both a hin­drance and a help; a hin­drance be­cause I’ve had no con­sis­tent pres­ence to set an ex­am­ple or of­fer guid­ance, a help be­cause that very lack of pres­ence has forced me to work hard at defin­ing man­hood for my­self, and I feel that I’ve reached an un­der­stand­ing that I would have been in­ca­pable of if I hadn’t had to do the work my­self. The learn­ing process be­gan with sim­ple things, like teach­ing my­self to shave, but has ex­panded and mor­phed through­out the years into some­thing as com­plex as a phi­los­o­phy for my ac­tions & de­ci­sions as a fa­ther. There will al­ways be holes in the foun­da­tion, but that just means I need to change the metaphor for man­hood from a struc­tural one into a pro­gres­sive one; it’s a jour­ney, not a house. A jour­ney changes, a house set­tles.

Because of my father’s dis­ap­point­ment that I wasn’t the boy he wanted me to be, I’ve learned the op­po­site of his ex­am­ple: to ac­cept that what I want has noth­ing to do with what is. I’ve learned that the im­po­si­tion of will is less pow­er­ful than run­ning wa­ter. Instead of beat­ing on a wall and get­ting nowhere, flow around it and move be­yond. The dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing stub­born & be­ing im­placa­ble.

I’ve been blessed to have sur­ro­gate fa­ther fig­ures through­out the years, not the least of which have been my un­cles. They have al­ways been there with the right ad­vice — right when I need it. I haven’t gone through this alone, and though I’ve done my best in this post to stick to the core and key (my fa­ther, for­give­ness, my­self) of this many-ten­ta­cled in­ter­per­sonal con­flict, there is much more that could be said. For my part, I think I’ve shared what has been most im­por­tant to me. It is nice to fi­nally lay the bur­den down.

The whole par­a­digm I’ve been talk­ing about and work­ing through is a sad and com­plex sit­u­a­tion. This story could have been about re­pen­tence, for­give­ness and heal­ing; so what I mourn most is what the last 17 years could have been if things had been dif­fer­ent. One thing I do know, my fu­ture will be dif­fer­ent; I’ve got my rea­sons and I’ve got the mo­ti­va­tion.