Opinion: Reflection on fatherhood

Pictured are two generations of Potters, Parker’s father and his daughter, Sophie.

Pictured are two generations of Potters, Parker’s father and his daughter, Sophie. Nancy Jo Chabot photo

Pictured are two generations of Potters, Parker’s father and his daughter, Sophie.

Pictured are two generations of Potters, Parker’s father and his daughter, Sophie. Nancy Jo Chabot


Published: 06-08-2024 8:00 AM

Parker Potter is a former archaeologist and historian, and a retired lawyer. He is currently a semi-professional dog walker who lives and works in Contoocook.

I had a father, and I am a father. Thus, on Father’s Day, I look in two directions, toward my father, who died about ten years ago, and toward my daughter, who made me a father just over twenty years ago. When I engage in that double vision, I always feel lucky for having had, in my father, a model for being the father I hope to be.

My father was never afraid to turn me loose. The summer between second and third grade, he took me with him on a business trip to New York City. One morning, when he had a meeting, he left me in Central Park to wait for him. In retrospect, that may not seem like a Father of the Year move, but that’s how Parker, Sr., rolled.

When I was in junior high school, he gave me a pair of his company’s Cincinnati Reds tickets. To use them, a friend and I got ourselves to downtown Columbus on a city bus, hopped on a Greyhound for the ride to Cincy, and walked to the ballpark. Letting me go to Cincinnati on my own was doubtless inspired by my father’s youthful adventures taking the train from Princeton, New Jersey, to watch the New York Giants play at the Polo Grounds. Given that, it was only natural for me to green-light our daughter’s plan to drive to Boston to take a basketball-loving French exchange student to see the Celtics play.

When I was a high school senior visiting colleges, my father took me to see his alma mater, the University of Virginia, but he had me visit Williams and Amherst on my own. I made the overnight drive from Columbus to Massachusetts with a high school friend, and on our way back, our ride down the elevator at Niagara Falls, at 9:30 on a Sunday night, in a blizzard, was epic.

The point is, my father gave me tremendous freedom, and I have tried to do the same with our daughter. Her frequent trips to Europe, on her own, are a direct legacy from her grandfather.

My father also managed to be deeply supportive of me without being overbearing or overly directive. In his youth, my father was quite the athlete. He ran in the Penn Relays in high school, quarterbacked his high school football team, and played semi-professional baseball when he was in college. Yet, he never tried to push me into the sports he played. I was not particularly athletic, and no good would have come from him insisting that I play football or baseball. Rather, he introduced me to golf, and we took up the game more or less together when I was in kindergarten.

When I was in college, my mother and father never missed a parents’ weekend. My sophomore year, my father started his own coal company, and while I believe that he would have welcomed me into the enterprise (my younger brother did actually work with my father for several years) my father never pushed me to take business courses. He was happy to see me major in English and French and follow my interests in anthropology, even though he had little familiarity with any of those subjects.

While I followed a path very different from my father’s and studied things he didn’t know much about, he could not have been prouder of my academic accomplishments. I suspect that my studies in anthropology were as foreign to my father as our daughter’s major in finance is to me. Yet, I am as proud of our daughter as my father was proud of me.

Now here’s the funny thing. My father, who was a four-alarm disciplinary problem in high school and who barely graduated from college, had a brother who was a brilliant medical researcher. In 1984, Science magazine published an angry editorial when two of my Uncle Mike’s research partners won the Nobel Prize in medicine and my uncle was left out. My uncle’s son was not all that academically inclined, and my uncle sometimes wondered, perhaps a bit bitterly, how his brother, i.e., my father, got the son with a Ph.D. and a J.D. All I know is that I will be forever grateful that the stork dropped me down my mother and father’s chimney rather than my uncle’s chimney.

From my father, I got the gifts of freedom, unconditional support, a love of dogs, and a deep appreciation for youth athletics — his attendance at the sporting events of my Ohio nieces and nephews, up through their college years, was legendary.

Finally, what makes my father’s fatherhood all the more remarkable is that his own father, as I learned only recently, was temperamentally unsuited to being either a husband or a father. In a memoir I first saw only a few months ago, my father described his father as beloved outside his home, by strangers and acquaintances, but distant and detached at home.

While I strive to create for our daughter (in partnership with Nancy Jo) the warm nurturing environment I grew up in, my father had no affirmative guidance from his youth when he and my mother created such an environment for me and my siblings. That’s what I’ll be thinking about on Father’s Day.