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HERB BENHAM: When it comes to fatherhood, ask not, say not

I say less now. I have less to say. Saying less is probably saying more than I should.

I learned this from another father, or learned it as much as I could learn. He was the master. Nobody said less more eloquently.

We raised kids at the same time. He had girls and, as girls often are — and should be — they were independent, full of life and had their own opinions, seemingly fully developed at birth. Including his wife’s, there were enough opinions in their house without offering his own.

He was a quiet man but seemed to grow quieter as the girls grew up. Quiet or not, he always looked as if he were on the verge of saying something wise. Being "on the verge" is a skill and for him, art.

His mustache helped, giving him the sort of gravitas that a mustache affords. However, I never heard him pontificate with his children. What he didn't say was probably maybe wiser than what he did.

"Wiser" because rarely does advice hit the bullseye. The arrow can look straight and true off the bow but often lodges in a hay bale to the left or right of the target.

If by some miracle the arrow lands and you have given direction that one of your children has followed, it's best to check and see whether you are asleep, dreaming or dead.

Kids (people too) are "going to go where they want to go and do what they want to do." Most find their way with, and more often without, us. Comforting but I wish I had known this early on because it could have saved us — new parents — wear and tear, but what fun would that have been.

***

We are new parents no more because some of us are late in the game. Being a father to grown children is different because if they were not looking for your opinions as teenagers, they seek them even less now as adults.

This is not easy for parents because as afraid of making mistakes as we are, we are even more worried that our children will repeat them. How else do you learn? Dead ends, roadblocks and cliffs are a part of this slog, however it may be better for people to identify and conquer their own obstacles even if they are the same ones their parents faced.

I’m thinking my friend with the girls knew this and although he might have been tempted to give advice early on and, when his girls had their own families, talk about what to sweat and not sweat, he knew that if he did, the answer might shorten their arc of discovery and abbreviate the learning curve.

Although no one asked for my opinion, and they were smart not to, it is Father’s Day, which comes with some license.

Enjoy this because, to paraphrase songwriter Cheryl Wheeler, "Life is short although the days and nights can seem long." At the end, the days of being a parent may appear compressed into one moment, brief and colorful as a fountain in a fireworks show.

Growing a mustache is not a bad idea either. It can make you look smarter than you are. It also helps when you have to hold your tongue and let them live as they should live.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.