The younger man sat across from me, and we explored a dilemma he’d brought to share. Words and feelings flowed back and forth, gradually filling the space between us like gentle waves of an incoming tide.

We belong to a group that has been meeting monthly to support and challenge each other with what it means to live our lives as men. Our ages range from late 30s to early 70s. As sons, spouses, fathers and some of us grandfathers, we are eager to learn from each other how we define ourselves at our various stages of life, how we nurture our most important relationships and how we manage our livelihoods.

Conscious or not in the moment, each of us knows we bring our own father with us into the room. Not surprisingly our father-son relationships run the gamut, informing each of us in the ways we show up in life.

Robert Hayden writes of one such relationship, revealing that the “offices” of love can sometimes be hidden in the raw reality of routine, or under-appreciated in light of conflicts. For those of us in cold climes who heat by wood, the image is particularly poignant.

Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

 I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house, speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well.

 What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?