I became a father on the evening of April 7, 1999. I was 25 years old. It was a Wednesday.
When I think back about that time in my life, there aren’t words in the English language to describe how terrified I was at the thought of stepping into a role I knew nothing about.
Mark Twain famously once said, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
At the age of 25, I was still pretty sure my father was dumb as a box of rocks, but it wouldn’t take long for me to see the error of my ways.
Today, nearly 20 years later, I now realize my father was a genius. He wouldn’t agree, of course. But that’s how the cycle seems to work.
There’s no way for an expected father to know – and comprehend – the amount of love, heartache, joy, and pain they will encounter during the course of their lifetime.
I imagine that’s our saving grace.
At least that’s the conclusion my friend, Robin, and I came to after a late night talking about the perils – and privileges – of being fathers.
Robin had two daughters. I have four sons. We laughed about the dangers of raising each gender and argued in jest about which group offered up the most stress, drama, and heartache.
In the end, it was a draw.
As I often do with people I respect, I asked my friend for advice about being a father.
He just smiled.
“Don’t ask me,” he said. “If you ever figure it out, you should write a book. But don’t hold your breath. Men have been trying to figure that out for a long, long time.”
Being a father, he said, wasn’t about being perfect. It wasn’t even about being wise.
It also wasn’t about being able relate to your children, he explained, because there’s no scenario in which a grown man can relate – or even remember – what it was like when we walked in the shoes of our youth. And visa versa.
“And that’s OK,” he said. “You just have to do the best you can.”
And then he quoted his favorite song by The Beatles – inspired, no doubt, by scripture.
“All you need is love. And love is all you need.”
Last year, my wife and I separated after spending a vast majority of our adult lives together. It was sudden. And it wasn’t.
I can’t – and won’t – speak for her, but I know I didn’t do my best. Not as a husband – and certainly not as a father.
And frankly, neither did Robin.
Although he lived his life to the fullest, he would have been the first to admit he could have done more.
One more hug. One more selfie. One more word of assurance.
There was always more work to be done.
If you ever met Robin Wentworth, you know what I’m talking about.
Despite being one of the most intense listeners I have ever met, there wasn’t ever a moment when he wasn’t aware of everyone else in the room.
Somehow – even long before he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) late last year – he was keenly aware of his mortality.
He lived his life and while the rest of us sat back and admired the adventures he went on, I don’t think he would consider those his greatest accomplishments.
Those were his family. His friends.
Time, for Robin Wentworth, was always ticking. As it should be for all of us.
The dissolution of my marriage has not been easy. Those who know me best have told me they have seen it in my eyes.
As it is often said, the “firsts” have been the hardest. First birthday. First Christmas. And this weekend, my first Father’s Day.
When I’m feeling particularly sorry for myself, it’s easy for me to think that guys like Robin are the lucky ones.
But now that he’s gone, I’m pretty sure Robin would have given anything for one more chance to brighten someone’s day. One more chance to make a difference.
There isn’t time for us to feel sorry for ourselves. Not today or any other day. Not even on Father’s Day.
And while the tributes bound aplenty on social media, I think we must remember Robin’s parting gift to all of us – his constant and eternal belief that there is more work to be done.
“You just have to do the best you can,” he said. “All you need is love. And love is all you need.”
Robin Wentworth died on the morning of June 13, 2018. He was 56 years old. It was a Wednesday.
David Gustafson is the publisher of The Hattiesburg Post, The Lamar Times, The Petal News – and Signature Magazine. And he has more work to do.
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