|Dad and me September 1963|
Father Knows Best, right?
Do you remember the television show starring Robert Young? I never did see the show yet it seemed to set off a litany of “fatherly” types on television from downright gospel Midwest father Charles Ingalls to the hip, almost sedate portrayal of Mike Brady. More slovenly portrayals have graced the screen in recent years where the father is, at best, a comedic idiot who is fodder for everyone's ridicule. In some ways, this has translated into the real world context of what a father is.
Fortunately, real life fathers have actually morphed into what would be considered somewhat of a human being.
I was listening to my favourite radio station this past week (Boom 97.3 in Toronto) which I always do on my way to work. One of the reasons I listen to the station is the morning guy, Stu Jeffries. Every so often he gives an impassioned speech from his heart and it's what makes him much more than just another talking head. On this particular morning, he talked about his past with fatherhood and role models and growing up in a fatherless home. Many of the thoughts he shared echoed my own.
Unlike Stu, I never took the chance to became a father.
Early on in my young adulthood, I didn't want kids. I wasn't sure why then. Later on I realized there was fear attached to the idea. My history with kids wasn't anything to write home about. In the modern age, families are broken up and mashed together and the kids have to get along as best they can. As it turned, my situation wasn't much different and I ended up being the oldest of four... the youngest being thirteen years my junior.
I was not the greatest big brother.
Knowing how I was in my teen years with younger siblings, I had a fear of becoming a father and repeating those same mistakes. In fact, there was a strong likelihood I would. How could I possibly be a father when I was still a kid myself? How could I be a parent when I wasn't mature enough to know who the hell I was? My greatest fear had nothing to do with responsibility. It had nothing to do with “being tied down” or freedom or giving something up. It had everything to do with fear of breaking a human being.
Why would I bring a kid into the world when I was the odds on favourite to break them in the first place?
I recently had an opportunity to be a Dad of sorts. Whether I was any good at it or not is a whole other monologue, I suppose. It's certainly not up for discussion here. I do know, though, I was hindered from clarity of thought and action by fear. Fear of screwing up. Fear of doing something that might scar a younger person for life. I think most men go through that same paradigm at some point or other. We're so afraid of screwing up we either react badly, don't do anything at all or defer to the child's mother. It's just easier than dealing with the emotional angst of making a mistake.
So we stay distant from our kids, try too hard or, as in my case, don't have children at all.
I know my Dad did the best he could. I know he made decisions that, while they may not have been the best for each of us in hindsight, they were what he knew. A good portion of our difficulty came from having differing values... even early on. We looked at the world through contrary coloured lenses. We still do. It makes things difficult at best. But then, we were both raised in radically different times. With the upheaval endured by society in the past fifty years, how could we not see things differently?
Being a father is a big deal. At least, it is to us. We are not the perfect Father Knows Best character portrayed in the fifties. Nor are we the bumbling buffoon popularized in media over the past few decades. We are human and apt to make mistakes. We may not show it all the time and we feel everything, just like you do. In a lot of cases, we were brought up not to show those emotions. Mostly, we haven't a clue what we are doing and playing it by ear which can be debilitating. If you get one thing from this post, please get this... we are trying our best and we (those that are fathers) want the best for you. We really are trying to figure out how to show up in your life.
To me, Father's Day is a day of report cards; not for my Dad but for me. Am I a better person than I was last year? Am I more compassionate, more understanding, safer to be around and safer to open up to? Have I grown at all? My report card grades to myself in answering those questions in regard to being a role model is usually... no. Though I've never had children of my own, I live by the understanding that we are all fathers in some way or other, even if that is nothing more than a distant role model for other's children. We still have a part to play.
A final word to my father, I know we don't understand each others point a view most of the time and come at the world from differing angles....
And I love you.
Happy Father's Day.
This is the Stu Jeffries monologue. It really is worth the four minutes.