When asked to write something on the topic of the Human Ecology of Fatherhood, it was Monday, June 13, 2016. Two days prior my son had finished Kindergarten, crushing it, and I’d spent that day with him doing mundane stuff; we got him a haircut, a new coloring book full of ninja turtles, and bought the electric toothbrush the dentist insisted on. But the news of the day was tragic. The Pulse massacre had displaced the shooting of Christina Grimmie, only a single casualty as opposed to almost 50, in a race to the bottom for humanity’s last gasp. My head was swimming as I felt the increasingly common mix of anger, frustration, sadness, and simple confusion after another senseless mass killing. So after we put him to bed and I had a few minutes to sit with my thoughts, I started wondering about the seeds of intolerance and how they’re crushed or sown. And I began thinking about my own history and when or where I’d been at one of those crossroads myself. I suddenly remembered something that I hadn’t really thought about much, something about my own relationship with my father. This memory lodged right in the chest, I had to get it out and it seemed worth sharing. So I did what any crazy person does these days, I posted to Facebook. This is what I wrote:

My father was the best man I’ve ever known. And he wasn’t afraid to express himself in all manners, to touch or be touched. He was also affectionate and as a matter of routine, I would kiss him goodnight every evening at bedtime. Until I got to be a teenager. Then, without really knowing why at the time, something changed and it felt “wrong” to me. So I stopped and he never pushed me on it. That was his way. Looking back, I realize that teenage me was afraid of myself. Afraid of “acting gay,” even with my own father. Absurd on every level, I know. I’ve never doubted my attractions so this was homophobia on a nascent level. Insidious, creeping, and inspired by forces external to everything he taught me. Years went by. I don’t recall when, but later in life I began to kiss him goodbye again when we parted. I thank grace for that. I still remember his scratchy beard, the smell of his skin. It brings me great comfort now that he’s gone. So every night, without fail, I kiss Griffin goodnight. It’s his boundary, really, and if he decides it’s not something he wants, I’ll respect that. But we’ll have a conversation about it. Because that’s my way. And humans touching humans, openly and unafraid of what anyone thinks, is one path to the light. My heart knows this and I promise to teach it to my son.

Fatherhood is challenging, of course, and I had a great role model. It requires the intuition of a teacher, knowing when to push and when to pull; it requires the skills of a dog trainer with the patience to repeat a command 1,000 times before you see it executed without hesitation; it requires an open mind because this other person is in the active process of becoming and who or what that means is unknowable. And, of course, it requires much more. Like Human Ecology, Fatherhood requires everything from us—our hearts, our minds, and our feet. Both require that we look for ways to connect the seemingly disparate or bring together what has been traditionally separated. Both require tremendous flexibility and imagination. Both require every fiber of our being as we strive for an understanding of the past, an emphasis on the present, and an eye toward the future.

Today is June 19 and according to plan, we’ll be taking a family trip to Boston to introduce Griffin to the temple of baseball know as Fenway Park. He doesn’t really understand the game yet, but he’s all in. He knows he’s a Red Sox fan because I am and he wants to be like me. I see that as the compliment it surely is and for the first time ever, I won’t really be focused on the game. I’ll be watching the six year old, who’s watching everything. And if you ask later, I might not remember the score. But I’ll remember everything about the day. And that, for me right now, is the Human Ecology of Fatherhood.