Allow Me a Moment of Vulnerability

A father is known to his children in many ways: his voice, his presence, the roughness of his face, the calluses on his hands. He is known to them by the routines of his comings and goings, by his work boots and his ties, by the smell of his cologne, by the way he clears his throat. He is known to them by the tone of his words, by his authority and his laughter, by the anecdotes and admonitions, by the sound of his prayers.

To a small child, a father done right is a mountainous presence.

Years ago, I was an engineer in the same manufacturing plant my father worked at for 18 years before retiring. The distinct scent of oil, metal, and machines woven into the old cotton shirts he used to wear was familiar and comforting to me growing up.

The olfactory bulb never forgets.

There was a particular week, one among the endless stacks of others that came before and the many clones after, when I sat down for dinner with my wife and two daughters. After I said grace the girls dug into their meals, the sound of plates and cups and silverware and slurping of straws dominating the conversation, a chattering of its own. A long day at the plant now over, I yawned into the bend of my arm, still wearing the cuffed long-sleeve flannel I had worn to work, its blacks and reds faded and worn and frayed.

I exhaled ‘work-Tony’ and breathed in the calm consistency of home as one does when eyes are tired and the body gives in to the slope of a chair; all at once, completely, and with a quiet desperate appreciation.

In that split second of inhale, as air and chemicals and dust and food odor drew into me, I remembered that scent, that same faded industrial aroma from a lifetime ago. The scent of my father, the scent that was my father, but on me. I was transported back a decade and a half. In that moment I saw me, 10 years old, scarfing down food next to my brother and sister, through my father’s tired eyes; the realization of family.

In that moment, I was him and I understood him and I knew his trials. I could feel the path, under my feet, he had walked not so long ago. Its strange stoic duty-filled sacrifices a mask of service and seeking.

In that moment, life had come full circle.

And I just about lost it. It took everything in me not to buckle over in tears. Not sad tears. Not happy tears. Just tears. Tears of times gone by, of chapters closed and new beginnings. A story written and rewritten. A colliding of past, present, and future in one quick fleeting moment. I still don’t quite know how to articulate that feeling, but it was something special.

What I Learned in That Moment Of Fullness

Being a parent is hard. Being a father is hard. The bubbles they live in are so perfect, so peaceful. The dreams they have are full of heart and the laughs they give are never forced. There is such joy in our children, in our sons and our daughters, watching them explore this world, our world, with innocence and curiosity.

For me, it’s the eyes.

There’s something about those perfect honest eyes and the way they look at things so singular, so purposeful, so trusting. It is in a person’s eyes we see forgotten pains and whispered hopes. It is in the eyes we tell others of our hardness or our softness. Eyes, which are eventually opened to the reality of the world around us, must go through trial and heartache and tears and betrayal. But eyes, which never forget the love of a warm hug and the soft look of an understanding parent. Adventure and misstep, achievement and entrenchment; the eyes carry it all.

To the fathers and men: the light of resilient curious ambition balances our many experiences. Let our hardness and our vices not dominate the look in our eyes. They will look to you; they will look to your eyes to find answers to the questions they will never ask.

They will look to you for the answers they will one day have to live.

Cheers, folks.

This article was originally published at Medium. Republished with permission from the author.