"You also saw how the LORD your God brought you through the desert. He carried you everywhere you went, just as a father carries his son. And now you have arrived here."
I honestly wished I remembered more about raising our kids. Some of the times I remember were bad times: when I cut Rebecca’s bangs too short and she didn’t forgive me for a year. Or when Daniel and I were roughhousing and I launched him a bit too far and he winced in pain although he landed on the bed. He was fine. I remember grabbing some ointment in the middle of the night to put on some diaper rash and it turned out to be Ben Gay instead of Desitin. That may have been Daniel. I can still remember the screams. I remember slamming Shaun’s fingers in the car door. I can still remember the screams. But I also remember laughing a lot with our kids. I can see their glowing faces in my mind and hear their laughter in my heart. They are all very funny and loving people and have grown into wonderful adults despite me.
I remember my Dad and how athletic he was and how he instilled in us a sense of using our bodies. We laughed a lot as a family and spent a great deal of time together: card games, bowling, table games, table tennis, badminton, horseshoes, or hiking. Dad liked having the family together.
Mary and I did other things with our kids. We sang a lot, played games, and I have always enjoyed being around my kids. Our kids were athletic, and we saw to it that they had avenues to pursue those interests. But I don’t have many specific vivid memories. Like so many fathers, I spent a lot of time at work and with failed business ventures to try to provide for the family. Sadly, this ate into family time.
When Mary was getting her Master’s Degree, I was with the kids a lot. I made dinner, changed diapers, and was there in the evenings after work while Mary went to school. Those may have been a quality couple of years. I’m not really certain. Thankfully we have some pictures and videos of good times with the family.
So I look at myself as a father and I have a mixed evaluation. No, I didn’t beat them, or call them names, or do anything severely destructive. So from that perspective I wasn’t a bad father.
But was I there in the manner they needed me – when they needed me? I am always appreciative of my own Dad and the opportunities he provided for sports and recreation and other avenues and activities of interest. But I don’t feel like I was ever truly close to my Dad; I felt closer to my Mom. I never feared my Dad, although I had a healthy respect for him because he was the disciplinarian. And I never was partial to the idea that both of us kids were punished when there was trouble and I really had nothing to do with it. But if you’re part of a family you’re going to have to do some things, and experience some things, just because you are part of a family – and that includes picking up dog poo, doing the dishes, or getting a lickin’. I feel like Dad did a good job instilling values and getting me grown up.
So Father’s Day is always an interesting time for me; it makes me think: I had a good father, but was I a good father? And what is a good father anyway?
Studies show that more people dote over Mom on Mother’s Day – more gifts, cards, calls, money spent – than Dad on Father’s Day. What’s up with that?
There has been an increase in research recently on the father’s role in parenting. Recent research indicates that children who have actively caring dads benefit in many ways: They are more prepared for school and are more academically successful in higher education. They start speaking earlier and are more verbally expressive. They grow up less prone to depression. They are less likely to be delinquent in school and get in trouble. Daughters, especially, are more ambitious in their careers. And lastly, they have a more positive self-image.
Author and father, Hugo Schwyzer, sees a real change in the way that the current generation of fathers are approaching their parenting role: “Many of them see fathering as a genuine vocation. They don’t just pay lip service to putting family first. They do it.”
Fathers and Mothers can both be nurturing, wonderful, effective, and sensitive parents, even if through their disparate approaches. Empirical evidence supports the widely held belief that one of a mother’s roles is to calm and soothe their children when they are distressed. In an interview with Tom Brokaw discussing the 70th anniversary of D-Day, veteran Fred DeVita told him: “When a man is dying, they don’t ask for God; the last words they say before they die is Mama, Mama.”
So if a mother’s role is to soothe and calm, is it the Dad’s role to excite and agitate? That’s kind of how I saw myself with the kids. When it was bedtime, it was difficult for me not to horse around and get them all wound up. The father’s role is different than the mother’s. Fathers incite their children to take chances and face challenges with confidence and to take reasonable risks within a secure environment.
This two-pronged nurturing approach works well: the mother providing a safe haven of comfort and consolation, and the father offering a secure base from which to explore and face challenges. So Dad sends them out to climb trees and Mom comforts them when they fall off the branch. Works great. So, it is a little more understandable that a father’s love is less verbal than a mother’s. It seems slightly incongruous for a father to say “I love you… now go jump out of that airplane!”
It is also understandable that there will be barriers to closeness between children, especially sons, and their fathers. Through all that the father is doing, the message is: confidence, independence, and self-discovery. This almost begs for a separation at some point.
Love and unconditional acceptance constitute the core of a warm father-child relationship and goes beyond quality playtime. It’s not necessarily what their fathers say, but what they do that can show children how an honorable man conducts himself. Much of what a boy does when he grows up is learned as a child from his father—so a father’s example (both good or bad) will play a huge role in the man his son will be.
Research shows that fatherly attention and nurturing can be especially important to daughters. While mothers often tell their children they love them, a father often demonstrates his love rather than speaks it. Research has shown that many fathers who have limited time with their child often learn how to “be in the moment” in order to make the most of the time they have together.
Although we might want fathers to tell their children “I love you” more often like mothers do, it’s more important that fathers make their love known in their own fashion, even if it is without words. As we embrace all types of diversity in nurturing, we can recognize the different ways of embracing children in warm loving relationships. As Dad runs alongside his child, gripping the seat of the bicycle, he gives them the courage to race into the unknown with the understanding that someone loves them enough to stay close and trusts them enough to let go. And from that understanding grows an appreciation for the unique type of love from our fathers.
After experiencing all the self-doubt from reading the information from all these studies, I realize that I shouldn’t read studies. They are rather depressing. I’m already past the child rearing stage; the damage is done and there are no ‘do-overs’. It is time to forgive myself and pray for forgiveness from my kids. Like our fathers before us who gave us our start, we have given our children their beginning and now it is up to them to take ownership of their lives and move forward despite our hindrances.
But we men can atone for some of our inadequacies as a father by becoming competent grandfathers. If we never had children, we can express a fatherly influence on nieces and nephews, and by mentoring, teaching, and helping the young in other ways. I have a friend, Dan, who never married but is a beloved uncle, and was a wonderful schoolteacher. He also helps financially support several children around the world. As such, he is a childless super-dad.
And after all, it’s Father’s Day, and we are not here to second-guess ourselves, but to express thanks to our fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, uncles, and whatever surrogate fathers we have had in our lives. Wherever possible let us express our love for this special influence. Let us speak our love, write our love, and act from the love we feel. Where it is not possible to do these things, let us send our love in prayers. My prayer is that we allow our awareness of the love we share to increase our receptivity to love as well as our ability to express love. Then we will be making the most of the opportunity this day provides.
So Happy Father’s Day to one and all!