Sunday, June 20, 2010

On Fathers: Mine and Everyone Else’s

Young Tom’s family was never really big on children. His father, by his own admission, hated them, and yet fathered nine of them.

At some point, he decided he didn’t want to work anymore so he just didn’t. This left Young Tom and the eldest of his sisters to work to help raise their younger siblings.

I think this left a horrible blemish on my grandfather. It made him cold and hard. It certainly didn’t foster or enhance his own paternal skills. While he always worked and provided and was a pinnacle of responsibility, he was neither demonstrative nor kind. In fact, he was outright mean.

I know that my other grandfather, who died years before I was thought of, fell just as short of being father of the year material but in different ways. He, too, worked very hard. But both he and his paycheck went directly to the neighborhood bar on payday. Alcohol fueled a violent streak which he happily brought home to his wife and children. He eventually disappeared from the scene, making an attempt to reconcile with his children in the years before his death.

It was a pattern my own father would emulate – when he bothered to be around at all. I remember when I was about 19 or 20, he attempted to explain his frequent absences thusly: “I just didn’t know what to do with a little kid.” I guess I was a little inconvenient small and helpless. Once raised, I could serve a purpose for him. Hmm.

Parenting is hard. It’s not something you have to have children to know. I watch my friends, my family and occasionally, my colleagues, struggle with their parental roles. I overheard part of a conversation recently in which one of my colleagues remarked to a new parent: “It’s a constant struggle and no matter how you raise them, all you can do is hope that it stuck.”

God bless my Uncle Ron – who is not even really my uncle but a cousin, by marriage – for showing me that not all men resent their children. That there were men who genuinely enjoyed them and who would rather have died themselves than to ever do anything that would harm them. He was the first of a few men I’ve considered father figures in my life. I’ve been very fortunate to collect a few more and to see dozens of other men who exemplify what I think a good father is.

Several years ago, I remember seeing this phrase for the first time: Anyone can be a father. It takes someone special to be a dad.

This is so very true! I well up sometimes when I see the tenderness in which some of the dads I know speak of their children. It’s heart-warming to see even the gruffest of rough-and-tumble guys nearly shed a tear when speaking of their progeny.

That’s because a dad loves his children. There is nothing he wouldn’t do to secure their happiness.

This doesn’t mean he’ll always let them get away with murder. Just sometimes. He wants to ensure they get the whole right versus wrong thing. He knows that discipline is important, but, as with most things in life, is best in moderation.
And abandon his children? Never! An army couldn’t keep a real dad away from his kids.

Dads worry. They question their abilities. They keep jobs they hate or take others that they don’t particularly like because it will give their children “the best of everything.” They consider the sacrifice a fair trade. The best dads though learn that the most important things they can ever give to their children are their love and their time.

Even when they’re tired, they will make that dance recital, coach Little League, or devote their undivided attention to reading a bedtime story. They don’t have to pretend to be interested in your science project or latest boyfriend. They don’t have to pretend because they are interested. And that boyfriend? He’d best watch his step.

Dads know that parenting isn’t a job that ends when a child is 18 or 21 or 50. It’s a lifelong commitment. They never let it seem or feel like a job, though, because it’s all about their kids. And they wouldn’t have it any other way. (It’s appropriate to pity men who never learn this lesson.)

A shout to those who have lost dads they loved. With some of you, I’ve shared your pain and am so sorry for what you’ve lost. I can only imagine the void that's been left. Know though that you were blessed and keep these precious men alive in your hearts.

And finally, here’s to all those wonderful men who make fatherhood look so d*mn easy. Your children love you more than you know. (Note to kids: So TELL your dad already! Not just today but every day.)

Happy Father’s Day.


Why S? said...

Nicely put.

Except, I think that for some, they do have to have children to know how hard parenting really is. I am always shocked by those who don't know how hard parenting is. I have a young friend with 2 toddlers who said to me "No one told me that it was going to be hard." Really? You couldn't have just figured it out before you got there?

I guess my parents did me the favor of making it clear that it was hard. Or, I guess it was a favor. Anyway, I'm glad I learned the lesson. My never-were kids should be glad too. I wouldn't have been good at it.

plumbelieve said...

As usual, your post is eloquently written. I enjoyed this, thanks NV.

NV said...

Why -- Thanks!

I can't imagine that anyone would think that raising a child is easy. Knowing how hard it is has been one of my consolations for not having been blessed with kids.

pb -- Thanks. It was definitely heartfelt. :-)