It is Independence Day here; when I was younger, it was a day for blowing stuff up, for a little thrill, and also for the ephemeral beauty of fireworks. A little less young, now it is a day for barbecues, family, and thinking about what it means to belong to a nation.

We spent the weekend surrounded by family and friends. Emma’s first 4th of July in a year of firsts. Strangely both my mother and mother-in-law (Patty’s mom) are moving right now. So this weekend was also one of saying good-bye to old houses, which is sad because so many memories get tied up in those places– saying good-bye to the bricks and mortar is easy, but knowing I won’t again sit on the deck, or walk in the roses, or see our carpentry is hard.

So maybe that poignancy led me to thinking about our fathers. I have never met Patty’s, and while I have one present father, I have one who still has not seen Emma. I was wondering if they are her grandfathers, or more like the distant relatives that I know only from a fading photo.

I feel so certain now that I will always be part of Emma’s life. Today I was imagining her being 30 and not seeing her, not seeing her baby. I can not picture myself in this absent role –maybe because of my own experience, or maybe because of my own lack of experience, I can not see us severed.

So what about our fathers? Not just Patty’s and mine, but all of our absent fathers. Are they distant because of us, or because of themselves? Even more, I can’t understand their distance from Emma. Nothing in my life has felt closer to the divine than holding Emma as she sleeps. How can they bear to miss these moments?

My absent father is not a bad person, and I do not blame him or my mother for their divorce. These severed relationships, our absent fathers, are the product of a system that does not support us to build lifelong commitments.

In my own case, my guess is that we are all a lot healthier and happier for that divorce — but I do not understand the absence, the severance, the walls. I do not understand how our world can survive filled with these rifts.

As a middle school teacher, I remember with alarming regularity parent conferences beginning, “we are going through a difficult time….” In my advisory group, most (60%?) of my students experienced divorce between 6th and 8th grade. Nationally and internationally, the statistics are staggering. Same old news.

With a two month old, it is new again for me.

Thinking about Emma’s grandfathers and myself as a father, I am concerned that as a society we have become confused about independence. We have convinced ourselves, especially men, that independence means not needing anybody. This kind of independence is easy. There are no real consequences, we are safe behind our emotional fortresses, it is easy to cut the strings. Yet there is no freedom, there is no opportunity to come together as something larger than ourselves. Bogart walks into the fog, “Three tiny lives don’t amount to a hill of beans” or some such —it plays well on the screen, but leaves a superficial meaninglessness to our greatest aspirations.

We have a society filled with the rifts of severed relationships perpetuated by people bound and determined to need no one else. We have become a society of single parents, single children, single people who come together around the holiday barbecues to celebrate Independence Day.

But this year, around the barbecue, I got to see people who love my daughter simply because she is a beautiful baby, and part of our family, and because we need one another. Today I got to see that there are other options — that it can be Interdependence Day. This does not mean our absent fathers with suddenly reappear –but that we can change the system.

I hope this is a year of extending relationships, and that next year I will watch the fireworks and see the glimmering motes as the connections we have built.

– Josh

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Joshua Freedman

Joshua is one of the world’s preeminent experts on developing emotional intelligence to create positive change. With warmth and authenticity, he translates leading-edge science into practical, applicable terms that improve the quality of relationships to unlock enduring success. Joshua leads the world’s largest network of emotional intelligence practitioners and researchers.
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