Hollywood being what it is, plenty of ugly is being freely shared from Balloon Dad’s personal history. He did, it seems, little to endear himself to folks out there.
But Tina Griego’s column in today’s Denver Post is a gulp of clean air among this story’s many kinds of stink.
It’s about the man in the red shirt, a father himself, running hell for leather after the silver balloon in the field to get the kid out safely. It was about a child – the fast dash, the fierce grasp of the tether ropes, the total focus on getting that contraption to the ground and keeping it there. It wasn’t about him.
And he didn’t want his name in the paper.
Full column below the fold in case the link expires.
A BETTER IMAGE OF FATHERHOOD
By Tina Griego
Denver Post Columnist
October 20. 2009
Amid all the twists in the boy- never-was-in-the-balloon story, there is one image I cannot shake: the balloon as it landed in a farmer’s field and, more specifically, the first man to reach it.
The first time I see him on camera, he is running from an SUV toward the still-drifting balloon. I imagine that as he drove toward the balloon, he was envisioning its trajectory, projecting its probable landing spot. I imagine he worried about the risk of stopping his truck too soon or too far away should the wind seize the balloon before he could get there.
Behind him, other vehicles are braking, sending up plumes of dust. Then, he is alone in the camera frame, just him and the field and the balloon he believes holds a 6-year-old boy.
It is the way he runs that captures my attention. He must have burst from his truck. He is running so fast, his legs seem something apart from him, pumping over the dip and peak of the furrowed ground. He approaches the balloon just as it dips toward the earth, and then he is reaching for one of its tethers and stumbling to the ground, then reaching again and holding on.
When the other rescuers arrive, not a couple moments behind him, he circles the balloon, still holding the tether. At some point, he disappears from camera view. When he reappears, he is holding a coiled rope. He grabs one end and hurls the rest over the top of the balloon, further pinning it down. He circles the craft, trying to peer underneath.
He is a father himself, I learn later. He has sons. I watch his frantic dash replayed on television. The sun glinting off the silver of the helium balloon. The clouds of dust in the field. This man in a red shirt, stumbling, reaching, righting himself.
He ran as if his heart would burst.
There are other images on television. Richard and Mayumi Heene, parents of the never-aloft, never- missing boy, on YouTube, on reality TV. Sheriff’s investigators say the couple perpetrated a hoax to land their own reality show.
Whatever the outcome, the Heenes are not the first and will not be the last father and mother to fail to understand the most basic aspect of parenting: It’s not all about you anymore.
They are not even the most egregious in their self-absorption. We live, after all, in a “Jon & Kate Plus 8″ world. Extreme parenting sells.
Precedent exists. Precedent exists because an audience exists. Because a court still must have its jesters and corporations their clowns, and there is money to be made in the trotting out of the vainglorious, the delusional. If kids come with the package, then the better target that the featured adults make, the richer the audience’s derision or incredulity or self-satisfaction. Innocence manipulated against a backdrop of venality.
The Heenes have demonstrated their failing in spectacular fashion, in ways so outlandish, it changes the scale. Before such garishness, our own selfishness is diminished, our own failings dim. But their circus act, with its blurred lines between adult and child, magnifies a truth we parents are at times reluctant to acknowledge: The most basic aspect of parenting is also its most difficult.
Finding the balance among woman and spouse and mother or man and spouse and father is exactly the place where many of us will fail at one point or another.
We stumble, get back on track, stumble again. Some decide to inhabit selfishness and so harm those they proclaim to love.
We fail because we are human. We fail because we conflate our desires with our children’s. We fail because we are unprepared for parenthood and its demands.
To put child before self requires discipline and patience and generosity, and if one believes these attributes are a natural outgrowth of love, one misunderstands love. Feelings for one’s own child are vast. In their immensity, a parent can mistake recklessness for generosity, irresponsibility for freedom. Establishing boundaries, providing structure, is love and work. Constant self- awareness is love and work. What we say, what we do, our children watch us, and from us they learn.
The man running to the balloon is a Larimer County sheriff’s investigator. He is a private man, and the thoughts he had that day are his to share as he chooses. He followed the balloon from Fort Collins along its southeast path. He was, in the words of one of his colleagues, “bound and determined.”
He did his job. He did it with the selflessness his work requires. But I cannot help but think that it was not only his job as an investigator that propelled him over those furrows but also as a father: I will do all I can to keep you from harm.
If the Heenes offer us one image of how adults and parents move through this world, this man, sprinting through a field, gives us the image to be remembered.
Tina Griego writes Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Reach her at 303-954-2699 firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) Denver Post