Sunday, June 21, 2009

Being the dad you wished you had

As I sit down to my keyboard with a cup of coffee on the Father's Day morning, I want to touch on what it means to be a father. Not just the nuts and bolts of being a parent but also learning about where your idea of being a dad came from.

For me, as with most men, the only real example of fatherhood growing up came from watching my father. My father was old school. Born in 1915, he was 52 when I was born. He grew up in the heart of the great depression, rode a horse to school, and worked harder as a teenager than most anyone does today. To say that my father was a strong authority figure is an understatement.

He was tough as nails, I don't think I can remember him being sick once. He had the kind of handshake that would make you cry uncle from years of working his family's farm after his father died when he was 17. Like so many men from that generation, he had to be a man at a very young age.

I loved my father, but he scared the Hell out me. He taught me to swim by throwing me in the creek at the ranch. He gave me a single shot .410 shotgun and .22 rifle when I was ten years old. No instruction, no safety lecture, just a firearm and box of cartridges. He taught me how to operate a D-8 bulldozer by telling me to get up there and drive it, at age twelve. I was chasing cows through rough country on horseback since I can remember. The fact that I survived my childhood is a miracle of Old Testament proportions.

I could tell at times he was taking it easy on me, and I spent plenty of time playing outside on the ranch with my dog or fishing at the pond. My father did have a softer side, but it was hard to find, especially because of his alcohol abuse. People who knew me when I was a wild, and I mean wild young man, ask me why I quit drinking, I tell them the idea of my children seeing me drunk frightens me to death.

When I look back on my father's example of being a dad, I realize that his father was even tougher. A saddle bronc champion, a teamster -not truck driver, 40 mules pulling a combine teamster- and he died when my father very young. For all his faults, and I am not excusing them, my father did not grow up under easy circumstances. His tough, early years shaped him as a man and as a father.

I wonder why some fathers are able to break the generational examples of fatherhood and choose to be the dad they wished they had growing up. For me, I found that my faith was a big influence. When I began to understand my relationship with God, when I understood His forgiveness, I was able to forgive my father for his faults. I began to understand what real love looks like, and I started trying to use His example of fatherhood. This in a work in progress. I wish a had the last 15 years back to try again. Not that I don't love my kids just as they are, but because there were so many times when I lost my temper or made poor decisions as they grew up.

I know that there are some great fathers out there, and some men who have two or three generations of loving, caring examples of fatherhood to emulate. I also know that most of us do not. Some men did not have a father in their home growing up, and are trying to figure out fatherhood from square one.

While I understand that we are shaped by our childhood and our examples of parenting, we are not slaves to it. We have the ability to change. It is never too late to start, never. Even if you think you may have irreparably screwed up your children, you can change the father you are to them right now. You may have to deal with some tough situations, it might be a very painful process, but you can still be a positive influence on your children. If your children are in diapers or if they have children of their own, as a father, you owe it to them to be the dad you wish you had.


toriandsean said...
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toriandsean said...

Well put! I often think of this as I came from an extremely rough and abusive childhood as did my father. We can't just sit around and blame it on our parents. It is up to us to break the cycle. Very well written. Thanks!

Ericosborneo said...

Wise words well spoken. My thanks for sharing them. I accept the challenge!