The Pursuit of 'Happyness,' Father's Day 2007

John J. Hopkins Jun. 17, 2007, 8:15am

"The Pursuit of Happyness" is a great movie, featuring an Oscar nominated performance by Will Smith, and is today's metaphor.

The theme of the film is simple - that there is nothing that the devoted father will not do, no sacrifice he will not make, to bring happiness, security and peace to his family. It sets the stage for a Father's Day column.

The phone rings at the Hopkins' house, 4 a.m. on a Saturday morning. But the reaction is not the panic of certain bad news, but relief from the confirmation that she has arrived safe and sound. Our daughter Bridget - Marquette Class of '04 - is spending the summer studying in France, an activity filled with anxiety, anticipation and nervous joy for both parents and child.

Hearing that at least the first leg of the journey is relatively trouble free, eases the worried mind, and puts the frantic soul temporarily at rest. Thanks be to the St. Bridget medal, and the blessing from Father Chris.

The trip to France in so many ways is a watershed event. Bridget is showing independence, her growing maturity, and beginning to explore the vast and wide world that lies before the 21 year old, all of which we as good and dutiful parents, applaud and encourage.

But, as it is with all progress, such wonderment comes with a price. Our baby is no longer a baby. Our house on Henry will soon no longer be her home, as reality, that cruel and heartless fiend, comes in and sweeps her away.

This summer, at least the bits and pieces we have, will be the last summer she will be staying with us. After graduation and the successful entre into the job market, somewhere else will be home.

No longer will Hershey bark frantically at the sound of the late night arrival of the Ford Focus or the phone ring with the inquiry of "Hello, Mr. Hopkins. Is Bridget there?"

Silence is the price of progress, a high and tearfully hard price from which there is no escape.

This Father's Day is the first time that I will not be with my daughter, an experience that many men have endured for years, but for me, is certainly painful in its bittersweet irony. My daughter is gone because I encouraged her to go, the hug at breakfast replaced by the long distance phone call.

It is I guess simply called letting go, to know that all of your love, guidance and direction was all leading up to the day when she leaves to go out into the world.

To quote Bob Dylan, "When you finally fly away, I hope that I served you well. For the wisdom of a lifetime, no one can really tell. But what ever road you choose, I'm right behind you, win or lose."

Unfortunately, neither poetry nor clear headed rationalization can ease the sting of absence.

For certain, while her brothers are truly loved without condition and equally in all respects, there is no denying the special place that the one and only daughter has in her Father's heart.

Circumstances dictated that I was the first to hold her in the delivery room some 21 plus years ago, and from the moment I looked into those baby blue eyes, I was hooked, devoted to the proposition that nothing would ever be too much to do.

So, I sit here now a victim of my own excesses, as she studies French in Provence, instead eating barbecue in Alton, the sorrow of distance tempered by the vicarious joy of her continental exploration.

Before she left, I tried to give Bridget some sage words of fatherly advice.

I told her to always be a proud American, no matter what any one says or does. If she gets at all homesick, think of the flags on Henry Street. While the new French government is now decidedly more pro-American, there will be those who will undoubtedly criticize U.S. policy, most probably on Iraq. I suggested she firmly but politely remind her hosts that they live free today - and are not speaking German - courtesy of the ransom paid not once but twice in the currency of American blood.

I sent her off last Friday with the same words used if it were a night headed out to the Loading Dock: Be careful, be good and be home soon.

But there will be many nights before she returns. Fortunately, thanks to international phone cards and Al Gore's invention of the Internet, many chances for communications, including photographs by E-mail.

So the pain of separation will be tempered by the buzz of technology. But it will not be the same, and moreover, when she returns, she will be less of a child, more of a polished young woman. Her gain, our loss.

Father's Day comes and goes, as do all things in life. Soon enough, she returns from France.

Until then, Hershey and I will just wait by the back door. Au revoir, votre Pere. See you soon.

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