Paternal Proximity...

There's something profound that happens when you're with your dad. It's sort of hard to explain because it's not something scientific as much as spiritual. Whatever telepathy is to the mind, paternity is to the man. It's like you can feel things being deposited in your soul just being in close proximity. Words aren't necessary, thought they can expedite the soul exchange. There's something calming about being close to your dad, like things are going to be alright or something. This is where words start to break down in their painted pictures.
In this picture, my dad, Charles Frank Holdridge, and I are splitting wood with a Ford tractor passed down from my dad's dad. My grandpa actually built the splitter with odds and ends he pieced together from farm scraps. You see, my dad grew up on a farm, some 600 acres of fields, streams and mountains in the Catskill Mountains. He plowed fields, cut and bailed hay, fixed farm equipment, milked cows, butchered pigs, and flirted with neighboring farm girls. I come from agrarian stock, you might say. So even though I'm the son of a Christian School principal turned small town pastor, I'm really the son of a farmer at heart. He would just as soon be in the pollen as the pulpit. He loves to garden. He loves to fell trees. He loves to bushhog the back fields, He loves to burn wood in the winter. That's where I come in.
Every year, we visit Oswego in the month of August right about the time when dad has finished cutting down the trees, hauling them out of the woods, dicing them into chunks and throwing them next to the dilapidated shed where I used to huff gas in my naughty nines or terrible tens. There is a stack of unsplit wood there every year when our family rolls in the driveway for a week long stay at my parents house, my childhood home. It's about 5 feet high and takes up the space of a large in-ground pool. For those of you that are wood whisperers, it's about 10 to 12 cord of hard wood...anything from Wild Cherry to Soft Maple is represented in this stack of satanic sap-saturated sticks.
Dad and I will rise early in the morning and split or wait for the cool of the evening. You don't want to work with wood in the early afternoon, which is the sweltering heart of heat. We chipped away at the pile this year in 4 seperate time frames, partly because I'm not the agile workhorse I used to be and dad's not God's gift to physical shows of strength himself. We worked very methodically this year, and that was fine by me. Slow and steady wins the race.
As we worked, this synergetic and mysterious presence that exists between a father and son hit me quite viscerally. I soaked in the time like I was experiencing it in slow motion, knowing that these times won't always be. I watched dad with sideways glances so as to not be caught staring. I didn't completely know what I was looking for, but there was no doubt, I was looking for something.
I think I was looking for presence with my dad. A quiet, quintessential presence that can't be mistaken for anything but sacred. A man-moment that generations of men have wished to be able to articulate, but have perennially been lost for words to do so. Maybe it was never meant to be reduced to words. Maybe that sort of masculine minimalism only defiles it, vilolates it. I don't know.
But as I split and stacked wood with my dad once again this year, I was reminded again that the nut doesn't fall too far from the tree. It can't. It needs to stay close to its source, its sustenance. It grows best when it stays close. And maybe that's what I'm trying to get at here, there's something eternally amazing that happens when I get close to my dad and we work hard at something together. When we sweat together.
Something was deposited into me this past week. It is a vaccine that not enough young men have injected into their heart's bloodstream. It is that paternal proximity that we need to live. We can't live without it no matter how hard we try.
And, oh, do we ever try.


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