I posted an old photo on Facebook today, one from when I was probably no more than a couple of weeks old. My father, Hanno Fuchs, about 35, looks unshaven and a little rumpled. Maybe it's been a rough night in their Washington Square Village apartment, where, until recently, he and Carol had been living in relative quiet.
His expression is one of warmth and love, not an unusual one for him to have. He appears to be amused by my toothless smile, as though he had figured out, for the first time, how to make me laugh -- with a noise, perhaps, or a sudden bounce on his knee. "Honey, get the camera," he may have called out to my mother.
The post elicited the kinds of responses you'd expect it to get -- variations on "Awww, isn't that adorable?" But as one of its subjects, I experience this photograph differently. Unlike some, I make no claims to have memories dating back to my infancy (if I'm not mistaken, my earliest memory is of tripping over a hose and deadening my front tooth, around age four); so I have that usual odd sensation one has when looking at an image of one's precognitive self. On top of that, there's the pang of seeing my old man and missing him so.
And then there's this whole notion of "potential" that has popped up as an early theme of this blog. In fact, this image, of a young man and his infant son gazing at each other, works on an iconic level as the embodiment of this idea. As parents, we find ourselves observing our children and wondering what will become of them. We imagine life's twists and turns that lay ahead for them, and we pray to God the journey will be a merciful one. When they laugh, or express happiness in other ways (my brother Mike tells a lovely story of the time his daughter, Hannah, looked up at him, unprompted, and proclaimed, "I love my life, Daddy"), we want to hold onto that moment, to that emotion; we want to "bottle" it, so that when those inevitable instances of pain befall them, our kids will possess a reservoir of joy and love that will sustain them, and guide them through the rapids, to a calmer place.
I wonder, too, what he wished for me in that instant. My parents were of that class and generation who allowed their children to "make their own paths," and offered very little in the way of direct guidance. If someone had asked him in that room, at that time, just after that photo was shot, he probably would have said something like, "I just want him to be happy." Of course that word is a complicated one, with myriad, moveable meanings. He'd say that he'd want me to be whatever I chose to be, and not to let anyone or anything get in the way of my doing that.
Beyond all of this, however, there is a potential I feel I have reached, and I credit my father for helping me to do so. And I'd even go as far as to say that if you look closely at the photograph, you can see that he is already beginning to help me with it in that early moment in my life. As people, we have the unique potential to give love. As I mentioned, my father's eyes were often filled with love -- for me, for my siblings, my mother, but also for humanity as a whole, for the community of people on this planet, trying to make sense of our lives. As his son, I am grateful to have been the beneficiary of my father's capacity for love on such a grand scale; obviously, this is a potential I wish for my own sons to reach, as well.