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The Power of Pointing

"It's not nice to point."
- Mama

It's important for a father to draw his children's attention to things outside themselves. That's why, with all due respect to Mama, it's OK to point. I think she'll understand.

The lines that follow are from Wendell Berry's The Hidden Wound. First, Berry is describing Aunt Georgie, an influential figure from his childhood:

She was always showing you something: a plant, a bloom, a tomato, an egg, an herb, a sprig of greens. Suddenly you saw it as she saw it – vivid, useful, free of all the chances against it, a blessing – and it entered shadowless into your mind.Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound. North Point Press, San Francisco, 1989, p. 73.

Berry talks also about his grandfather, pointing out hired hand Nick Watkins:

He admired him…and was always pointing him out to me as an example: "Look a yonder how old Nick sets up to drive his mules. Look how he takes hold of the lines. Remember that, and you'll know something."Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound. North Point Press, San Francisco, 1989, p. 23.

Berry was graced to have grown up in a world populated by phrases like "Look a yonder" and "Look how" and "Do you see that tomato?" He lived a life in the present that was sculpted by the power of pointing to the past. There are many who describe Wendell Berry and his writings with one word: wise.

Fathers, the power to point is accessible to us in two ways. We've got to look firstand then have the presence of mind to point it out to those entrusted to us. This doesn't happen overnight; it's a gradual learning, especially if you did not have an Aunt Georgie or Grandfather Berry in your life. But just because something is gradual doesn't mean it's impractical or unattainable.

So first we've got to be looking ourselves. Are you aware of your surroundings? Do you pay attention to things outside of yourself? Are those railroad crossing instructions – Stop. Look. Listen. – a routine part of your day? Living this kind of a life involves slowing down. There's no way around it. Now if you're like me, you've already got lots of people telling you to slow down and savor life. Most days that seems utterly impossible; there is so much good to do for those we love. But if you're like me, then you also know the truth of the saying that "good is often the enemy of great."

Fathers, we'll blink and they'll be graduating from college, walking down aisles and stepping into marriage, welcoming their own children home from the maternity wing. Sunrise, sunset. It goes so fast. The lyrics to Harry Chapin's Cat's in the Cradle should haunt us all; our children might grow up to be "just like me." If you're going to slow down, then carpe diem; today's the day to begin. Don't run yellow lights. Turn off e-mail on the weekends. Whatever you need to do, do it.

I firmly believe the last thing a father needs these days is another voice yelling, "You're not doing enough!" Some days we don't have time; some weeks we're gone on business trips; some moments we miss things right in front of our noses. What's a father to do?

If you noticed, the showing/pointing people in Berry's life were not always his father. Berry's grandfather filled that role at times, as did his Aunt Georgie. I, in no way, want to diminish the power that you have as a dad in pointing out people and places to your children. I hope you won't diminish it either. At the same time, I want to encourage you to make certain that your children spend time in the presence of others you know that possess the power of pointing. I'm not sure it always takes a village, but there are days when a Grandfather Berry or an Aunt Georgie are indispensable to our children remembering and learning and knowing.

Gentlemen, you don't always have to do it yourself. I just want to point that out.

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Copyright © 2008 John Blase. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.