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A Father's Journey

My father, Angelo Saraceno, passed away a few weeks ago, so Father’s Day this year is going to be very different from any I’ve ever experienced. His loss is still fresh in my mind, and the concept of “fatherhood” being brought into such sharp focus at this moment is challenging.

As almost any of you who have lost a parent can relate to, it feels like there is a “father” shaped hole in my life right now.

It’s at times like this that living a Theory of 5 lifestyle can provide comfort. When people hear about a loss in the family, they often ask, “What can I do?” They want to help, but the honest answer is that there’s not much of anything they can do. We must experience the pain, and relief comes only from experiencing it and coming out on the other side. Others can support us, but it’s a journey we ultimately must take.

A tribute to the kindest hardest working man I have ever known...

When you surround yourself with mentors and co-mentors, however, you realize the value in what they have already done for you. If we have selected the people in our inner circle well, we know we already have their support, and we have their examples and experience to draw from which we will draw comfort.

When taking care of a parent in declining health, we begin to see ourselves as the leader in our relationship — in a sense, we become the parent. We take care of them to the best of our ability and are there for them as they were there for us.

In some cases, we might need to do some of the daily or weekly activities that they can no longer perform. We might have to facilitate and/or help them move into a smaller house or apartment or find a way to live closer to them. In the case of someone like my father who had Alzheimer’s Disease, that caretaking eventually becomes total and, once it reaches the point where we can’t do it ourselves, we find the best facility we can to ensure that they are comfortable and that their needs are met.

The day-to-day realities of caring for someone who is terminally ill can color our perceptions of them. They become the frail person we are constantly worried about, who we see getting “smaller” as their journey ends. We become used to our role as caretaker, and can often lose sight of who they once were, both as our parent and as a person.

And this is where the experience and wisdom of my circle provide me comfort. My mentors and co-mentors tell me that, as time passes, I’ll again remember the good times, as well. While those memories of his final years will always be with me, I’ll begin to put them into the context of his entire life. I’ll recall the strong, vital man he was in his youth when I was a small child. I’ll remember the shift in his primary role in our relationship from “father” to “mentor” and “friend” as I became an adult. I’ll remember him as the person he was. It may take some time and some distance, but I know I’ll be able to look back at my father’s life as more than his last few challenging years and months.

The role a father plays in his child’s life cannot be overestimated. For boys, a father provides the template for what “being a man” means. For girls, how her father treats her will lay the foundation for all other relationships she has with men as she grows into adulthood.

This importance can be a double-edged sword. If a father is truly worth being called “Dad,” it’s a beautiful, rewarding experience. If not, their child will find themselves faced with overcoming his troubling example. I believe one of my parenting mentors, Evelyn Longsworth, put it best:

“The relationship a father has with his daughter is the most important relationship in her life. The reflection a daughter sees in her father’s eyes is who she will become. If a daughter sees in her father’s eyes someone who’s smart, who they believe in and who will excel in life, that’s who she’ll become. If they see in their father’s eyes someone who’s unimportant, who’s a nuisance, who doesn’t deserve their attention, they’ll seek that attention elsewhere but it’ll never fill that void.”

While Evelyn was speaking about the father/daughter relationship, this line of thinking absolutely applies to father/son relationships. When our fathers take an active, supportive role in molding us to be the best person we can be, that gives us a tremendous advantage in life.

What if — because of death, divorce, abandonment or family structure — a child doesn’t have a father? If this is the case, a grandfather, stepfather, uncle, close family friend or other trusted adult can fill this void in the child’s life. It may take — and probably will take — several men to fill the role that the father should have/would have played, but the remaining parent needs to make the attempt. A minister might be able to answer questions of a spiritual nature, for instance, while a coach can teach the importance of physical activity and discipline. My mentors and I believe that both the male and female viewpoints — the masculine and feminine energy — are essential in shaping a child into becoming a well-rounded adult.

Think back about the lessons your parents taught you as you were growing up. What did their example mean to you? We might not notice it at the time, but as children we absorb the teachings of our mothers and fathers (or the people who are filling those roles in our lives). We are also training our own children — or children who are a part of our lives — through our own examples. We are all links in a chain, passing down wisdom and experience. As parents, it’s our duty to make sure the next generation is equipped with the best of what we have to offer them. What examples are we setting for our children? Let’s always make sure we’re giving them the best of us.

While I’ve always understood the importance that a father plays in a child’s life, this Father’s Day has put a spotlight on it for me. My father taught me the valuable lessons that I’ll take with me until the end of my days. He was the hardest working man I’ve ever known, but he also was so kind to myself, my brothers and his grandchildren — and to everyone else he met. Both of these elements have shaped us into becoming the people we are today.

Ultimately, the role of a parent is to provide their children with the tools, knowledge and determination to survive and thrive on their own as they reach adulthood. By modeling his phenomenal work ethic and his strong, gentle soul, Angelo Saraceno more than fulfilled his parental duties.

Now it’s time to move forward, and although I have to face the future without my father, I’ll take a part of him — the best part of him — with me. Since I’m a father and grandfather myself, I’ll focus on what the role of “father” means to me. I can take his lessons and pass them down to my own children.

I will be my father’s son.

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