McKean Minute: Making sense of a fatherless Father’s Day

Andrew McKean wrote this for Father’s Day 2010, the first without his dad, Mike, who died the preceding August.

To say I lost my father is a form of linguistic denial, like saying I misplaced him, or that I’ll find him like a favorite pocketknife in an old pair of jeans.

My father is not lost. He is dead. I learned as a newspaper obituary writer to avoid euphemistic references to this most final fact. He did not “pass away” or “expire.” He did not “go to his reward” or “depart this life” or “go to meet his Maker.”

He died. And this is the first Father’s Day I haven’t had what I now realize is the exquisite luxury of calling him, both of us pretending that I was phoning to discuss the weather, or calf prices, neither of us once mentioning what he considered a cynical holiday engineered to sell greeting cards and cheap tools.

My father didn’t suffer what he considered mass-market frivolity. He would have been baffled, and even a little offended, if I gifted him a Father’s Day tie or an electric razor.

Instead, he preferred to simply talk, about too much or not enough rain, about his grandchildren, my job and when I was coming home on my next visit. I didn’t get to make that last trip. Dad died in late August, sudden as a thunderclap. The news reached me as I was hitching a tractor to a brush cutter, like I had helped him do so many times as a child.

I’ll call this Father’s Day to the abandoned farmhouse where I grew up. I’ll dial the number to the old rotary phone on the wall of the kitchen where my father died. And I’ll wait with a disbelieving suspension for him to answer, for his rich voice to fill the crackling void, before the sharp metallic jag of the automated operator jars me from my fantasy: “You have reached a number that has been disconnected…”

My father is not disconnected, just as he isn’t lost. But it’s small moments like today when he is found, however fleetingly.

McKean Minute: Picking a Mentor? Look Behind to Look Ahead

When most of us think of a mentor, we picture an elder. Maybe not a white-bearded sensi, but someone older and more experienced than we are. That’s natural. We hope to gain knowledge by synthesizing the experiences of those who have passed this way before.

But not all experience is linear, or can be counted by years. As you are considering mentors in your life, don’t just look forward to those with more experience, but also sideways to those who have other types of experiences from your own. And don’t hesitate to look behind, to mentors who are younger and have a different take on life and how to live it.

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