As we approach Father’s Day this month,  I’m wondering what I would be if my father had been someone else.  This is the question posed by a magnificent collection of vignettes about fathers, called “Forty Fathers,” a book created by author Jess Meghan and photographer Sam Lindberg. This is not a book about parenting, It is rather about the enduring bond, like a fiber-optic cable, that stretches between father and child, father and adult-child, regardless of how much the father was present or absent from the child’s life.


Each tiny essay with accompanying archival photograph in “Forty Fathers” is a personal recollection, a deeply moving portrait of a son’s or daughter’s heritage. I will present several of these small anthems during this month as we contemplate fatherhood. Here is an excerpt by Cindy Brown Austin, entitled: “He Never Came Empty Handed.”


“I didn’t have a daddy. I had a father. And that was a different species altogether. Daddies wore shoes large enough for you to hide in; they stood in the doorway like unmovable bulwarks when the overflow from the project’s outside insanity flooded its banks and tried to push its way into the household. Having a daddy was greater than having money. Having a daddy meant you were a whole entire person in the world, not a torn scrap of a person, or a remnant from some thrown-away relationship that no longer existed. In the world of my early childhood my father was a shadowy figure, close enough to watch but too far away to make any real impact. My father had a wife who was not my mother. He married this woman, an older lady, in order to remain in the United States. When I was old enough to understand that I was a “love child” who didn’t merit her blood father’s last name, my mother admitted to me that his love had been too much to resist, and she found herself loving him back. He was her rescuer and their love had a paternal quality; she was twenty-three and he was forty-eight. My mother described the agony of what it was like to be sitting on one side of a church with me, an infant in her arms, while my father sat on the other side with his older wife. So “daddy” came and went and never stayed for good. But he never came empty-handed, and he called my name with a fondness and possessiveness that no one to this day has matched. By the time I was sixteen, I still didn’t know what to call him. I simply said, “Hey,” and waved my hand when I wanted to get his attention. Somehow, seeing the two of them together, my father and my mother, it just didn’t seem logical. She was a young woman driving about town with a man who was old enough to be her father. How could he be her father and mine, too?… Our blood is forever mingled and his life has been infused within mine. The remnants of his physical presence, his primitive features, have forced their way into my animated expressions and now reside in my face as they gently edge into the sleeping countenances of my children. Although I had initially discounted the material things he provided, I recognize his foresight in providing for my parochial school education, sparking the formidable will to see myself in college, in the mainstream world and beyond the borders of my housing project.”