Yesterday I went to meet a sweet, elderly man for an interview. He was one of those friendly, grandfatherly types who just make you smile. He shuffled to the table, his weathered hands shaking a bit. He beamed as he talked about his youth, the job he retired from and his hobbies. When the conversation moved to family, he told me he was widowed several years ago and that he had a son who was a successful business man. When I asked if he had any other children, the smile left his face and he looked down and paused. After a few seconds of silence, he said that he had another child that he never knew. He was married briefly before he wed his second wife, whom he was married to for 40+ years before her death.
The tone of the interview was upbeat one moment and turned sad the next. With a look of regret he explained how part of the divorce agreement was that she had custody. She took their son, moved out of town and ceased contact. Part of me wanted to jump on the Internet and start a search for his long lost son, but it wasn’t my place. I was just there to do a brief interview and heard more than I expected. He didn’t share anything further about the situation, but I just got the feeling that he realized he had missed out on a lot in not knowing his son. I’m sure that if his son suddenly appeared in front of him, he’d be ecstatic to meet him.
It got me to thinking about how fatherhood has changed since his generation was raising kids. In the 1940’s, it was probably a rare thing for a father to fight for and win custody. It wasn’t uncommon for fathers to drift in and out of lives or disappear for good of their own wishes or that of the mother. It still happens today that some parents somehow make the choice not be part of their child’s life, but parents who separate now have the legal means to continue to be part of their child’s life if they choose to be. I walked away from the interview feeling very fortunate to have had both a mother and father in my life and that my children have the same.