F. Scott Fitzgerald lived a glamorous life and then he cracked up. All his talent. All his money. All the beauty and the passion evaporated. His wife, Zelda, wasn’t blameless in this collapse—both of them had partied hard, had prioritized things far less important than their beloved daughter Scottie. He was a man with demons, and those demons eventually won a terrible victory.
And yet, even with his flaws, Fitzgerald was a good father. He cared about his family deeply, and cared about being a father deeply. His death at age 44 was a tragic loss to the world and to those who depended on him.
It was Zelda, writing to Scott’s agent after his death, that described just what kind of father Scott was—and set a bar for the rest of us to follow, as we struggle to be good fathers ourselves. “In retrospect,” Zelda said, “it seems as if he was always planning happiness for Scottie, and for me. Books to read—places to go. Life seemed so promising when he was around.”
That’s what we should be working for. We want to make things more promising when we’re around. We should be fun. We should believe—as Fitzgerald did—in that orgiastic green light of the future. We should be optimists. We should show our children the world, we should find books for them to read. We should plan happiness, and we should find things for them. That’s our job.
We shouldn’t just be strict. Or just be critical. We should engage with the slime, as Jeannie Gaffigan put it. We should open our hearts. We should show them what joy and fun looks like. We should just also—and this is what Fitzgerald got wrong—take care of ourselves. We should do very little in excess. We should show them a good example, and keep our vices in check. So that we can be around for as long as possible. So that we can keep life promising for them.