On Fathers and Fatherhood 2015

Father and son, Ibiza, 1988
Father and son, Ibiza, 1988

Draftees on ship to Korea, 1953.
Draftees on ship to Korea, 1953.
Over the years I’ve received some nice comments about my portrayal of men in my photographs. When I was drafted and sent to Korea in 1953, I documented the journey of brotherhood I took with my fellow GIs and was particularly drawn to the expressions of connection between us as young men. It was one way to retain our humanity and our sense of safety during a time of uncertainty and peril.

At the water's edge,  1949
At the water’s edge, 1949

Lately when we were organizing my Mother’s Day blog post, my studio manager, John Benford, commented that I seemed to have more photographs of men with their children than I do of women. I never thought about it, but he seems to be right, and as I look them over myself, I feel an appreciation and affinity with these men whose tenderness and caring prevail in these photographs. I’m glad about this, since our culture seems to spend too much time promoting news and pictures of “negative” male role models and absent fathers. And, to be sure, those aspects of masculinity are all too evident, not because they are inherent, but because social conditions place stress on families, parents, children and whole societies in ways that short circuit the connective tissues of our relatedness. And, once a pattern gets set in place, it takes some intention to break it.

My father,  Brooklyn, 1946
My father, Brooklyn, 1946

I reflected upon this somewhat in my Father’s Day post last year. Sharing an early photograph I took of my own father, I could see all the things I loved about him. He was a generous man and helped me get started in photography by buying me my first camera. And, he was also an alcoholic with a reputation for rage and, at times, physical violence. When I grew to be a man and had to face my own alcoholism, I was determined not to assume the other negative aspects of his fathering.

I’m looking at this again now, not only because it’s Father’s Day, but because my son Gjon is visiting me from Santa Cruz. Last night we re-read together a poem I had written to him in 1965 when he was just five years old. I posted it last year, but it bears repeating again.

My daughter Robin and son Gjon on a bus in Philadelphia, 1965. Screen shot of contact sheet.
My daughter Robin and son Gjon on a bus in Philadelphia, 1965. From a screen shot of contact sheet.

For my son, Gjon, January 5, 1965

When I stand before my son
with a smile,
or frown,
a caress,
or my hand raised to strike,

I see my father,
a bigman,
As he stood before me
when I was the small one
Swaying to the force
of his smile
or frown,
Laughing,
or cringing
to his caress,
or hand raised to strike.

So I caress my son
and sweep him into my arms
Overwhelmed with humility
by that swift shot of sperm
whose accident gave me
the posture of God
Before the sweetness
of that young god before me.

My son Gjon Feinstein visiting us in June,  2015, © Judith Thompson
My son Gjon Feinstein visiting us in June, 2015, © Judith Thompson

Sometimes it takes a whole lifetime to become a good parent. At 84, I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of it and am appreciating my son, Gjon, for his patience as we walk that journey together. And, I’m grateful that I have had the eyes to witness and share some views of fatherhood that portray how I aspire to be as a father. Here are a few of them.

Haitian man with daughter,  Coney Island,  1949
Haitian man with daughter, Coney Island, 1949
Curly haired daughter with dad, Greece, 1988
Curly haired daughter with dad, Greece, 1988
Toddler with father, Paris, 1988
Toddler with father, Paris, 1988
On the tractor with grandpa, Ireland, 1988
On the tractor with grandpa, Ireland, 1988
In dad's arms, Ibiza, 1987
In dad’s arms, Ibiza, 1987

3 comments

  1. Jeannine Herron

    Love this piece, Harold. Where’s Robin? Babysat with her a lot and loved her energy and spirit, but I don’t think I knew about Gjon. Good days to remember…..
    love,
    Jeannine

    • Harold Feinstein

      Nice to hear from you Jeannine. Robin died of breast cancer in 2001. A very sorrowful event in our family’s life. Hope you are well and thriving….Harold

  2. Naomi

    Really enjoyed this post and your pictures, very strong last image.

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