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Sooner or Later, All The Sons Come Home

Tim Roberts
The Huntsville Times

OK. so my good friend, Herb, and his two sons go down to Florida every year for spring training. Big deal. I just know they spend the whole week arguing about politics: or the younger kid's new house with the flat roof that collects water better than the LA Reservoir. ("Four years of college at 10K a year and he buys a house with a flat roof. He should have taken a basic roofing course instead of American Lit.")

My other pal, Randy, and his kid, they get a guide and go fishing up in Michigan. Every year. How much fun can that be? Father,. son and total stranger in a faded mackinaw, huddled around a dying campfire. Picking fish bones out of their plate and wishing there was a McDonald's around the curve of the stream. Randy, just dying to make some constructive comments about the kid's wife -- but the guide, who's spitting tobacco in the fire, likes to stay up all night and tell stories about really successful fishing trips - not like this one. "You shoulda been here in the Summer of '92 -- Gee Golly!" Well, me and my kids don't shiver around campfires or watch a bunch of out-of-shape jocks frolicking under a Florida sun. But we're plenty close. Don't we spend hours on the phone talking about their sister -- my daughter - who only remembers my birthday if I sic my granddaughter on her.

Me and the boys are pretty close. We talk about stuff like that all the time.

Fathers and sons. Just like any. relationship, there's a duality involved -- the real and the dream world. In the boys' eyes there are two fathers: FATHER, the idealized icon, King Lear, Arthur of Camelot, Moses the Lawgiver, Alexander of Macedon. Then there's Pop, who thinks it's 1960 and a five-dollar bill buys supper and a movie for two. Pop, the champion sleeper who dozes off in the living room recliner. He'd be in the Olympics if there was an early to bed category.

Dad is the large male adult in the house whose personal philosophy and worldview are wrapped around economic survival and a synchromatic release of the five-speed clutch in the family Honda. He hates that stone-on-blackboard sound, coming out of the garage when Junior misses reverse gear. And he wonders if this cub will ever learn to hunt alone. He's full of faults. He can't even let the clutch out on that Honda without shaking the guts out of the engine. ("Does he realize a new clutch is a $500 proposition?")

But most sons, like wolf cubs, can't wait to leave the den. There's a neat parable about a family who lives happily in a modest cabin surrounded by a thick, pathless woods. Beyond the woods is a bright meadow with a stream bordered by wild plum trees.

The father knows that sooner or later the son -- energized by an impulse to explore the woods -- will leave the bosom of his family. Ah, but that woods. Dark, frightening, full of brambles. The boy will never find his way back to the cabin once his restless heart is satisfied. "When you leave," said the father, "you must mark your trail because someday you'll want to return. Don't forget."

"Right," replied the confident youth. "But why do you always think me a half-grown fool who can't even find his way home and why do you assume I'll return? The people out there (and he gestured beyond the cabin walls) will think me wise and beautiful. You'll see."

Soon after this conversation, the boy left. Early in the morning he stole out of his bedroom window and stepped into the impenetrable forest and brashly rushed through the woods in his eagerness for freedom. At a safe distance followed the father, diligently marking the trail from home to the edge of the woods. Then with a long look at his sun briskly striding over the meadow, the father returned home.

Some days later, the youth returned full of wondrous tales of the woods and the world beyond. "And did you have any trouble finding your way back to us?" asked the father. "None whatsoever," replied the son. "The trail is clearly marked."

So says the legend. It's not a bad moral. They all come home sooner or later. But you must mark the trail.

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