Today is my 22nd Father’s Day and what a ride it’s turned out to be thusfar. Quite honestly I’m half surprised the kids still even talk to me let alone agree with me on that rare occasion. Perhaps Mark Twain’s words actually bear some truth on the matter; “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” I’d submit that the reverse holds the most truth in the overall scheme of life in general. Obvious, you say. Well… Yes, but this is my blog, so bite me…
I’ve spent the last two decades trying to escape the clutches of complete failure, terrorized by the facts of my own flaws, weaknesses, inconsistencies and downright contradictions. Afraid that I will be found out for the fraud I am and trying to prepare everyone for the moment they realize that which I’ve known all along.
I’ve made sure my son knew that I could be, and often am, wrong. Explaining, and frequently illustrating, how someone can try so very hard and still fail. That someone will always be able to find fault with your proudest achievements, and sometimes those achievements are, in retrospect, ill-conceived in idea and practice. I’ve instinctively followed the George Bernard Shaw path of parenting; “If you must hold yourself up to your children as an object lesson, hold yourself up as a warning and not as an example.” This illustrates the fiendish truth of Parenthood; As much as we love our children, we are not their friends. If you try to be then it stunts one or the other of you. We are not their enemies, for that will diminish you. We will, however, take on aspects of each and both over the years, as it should be. No, we’re the cat herders, for want of a better analogy.
In my defense, or perhaps merely ‘for what it’s worth’, my personal Red Road for the last few years has included some fairly large changes to my own life and that may have lent some hypothetical/theoretical/Unicorn poopy credence to my parenting skills, but other than not waking up hung over every day I don’t see that it made me any more sparkly in the Dad Department. I see so many Huxtable-level Dads out there and that’s not something that can be achieved by simply punting the PBR.
I mean, I am still an asshole, albeit a slightly better grade of asshole. I also still think that the kids could do better if they applied themselves a tad bit more, think things through a bit better, stood up a bit straighter. But they’re still kids and will learn in time, hopefully sooner than I have.
On the other side, I think my kids are better than yours. No question. You can quit your whining and justifications right now, it’s a fact so deal with it.
It’s times like these when I wonder how much like my Dad I am, and then wish I was more like him. Sure, we’re at loggerheads on everything political, but this is a man who went to work every day for 30 years to a job he really didn’t like. Hard physical labor that has made him strong as an ox at 81 years old. He worked swing shift at the bread factory (“It builds strong bodies twelve ways”) and compared to my friends, I rarely saw him except on Saturdays. When I did, though, I learned stuff. In second grade or so he would wake me up when he got home at 2 am and we worked through multiplication and division. He coached my Little League Baseball team and did his best to teach me to field. He taught me to never be afraid to take on large projects such as tearing apart a Corvair engine, to planning and building a second story deck. Most importantly, however, he taught me by example a simple adage that’s a prevalent marketing slogan now; “Just Do It”. When it comes to your family, your job is to get it done, and don’t set aside your integrity while doing it. Your pride may take a hit or three, but that’s an acceptable risk in the grand family scheme of things.
I struggle to apply these lessons in my own family, and never seem to get it just right, but he has given me a bright star to steer by. And isn’t that kind of what being a Dad really is?