Today is father's day, and as a newer member to this group, I have thought a lot about what it means to be a good father. Of course, there are no manuals for being a dad. There are no books that tell you how to be a father or what you should do when x, y, or z happens. However, if you are looking for a good book about fatherhood check out: So You're Going to Be a Dad by Peter Downey and also The Book of Dads: Essays on the Joys, Perils, and Humiliations of Fatherhood by Ben George. Other than those couple of resources, you're on you're own, bud. I, however, can share my two cents about fatherhood.
When I first became a father, I felt like I was waking up into a new plane of existence. All of a sudden when my son was born, I saw the world with new eyes. I looked out at the trees, the grass, and the sky, thinking to myself why didn't I notice how vibrant all these colors were before? Why does everything feel so alive and fresh? That feeling wore off as I learned to live off of literally no sleep. And even here I feel guilty because though I wasn't sleeping and going through this misery with my wife, during month two of my son's life, I moved back to the Midwest in order to finalize my move and finish out my teaching gig there. So, for about 5-6 weeks, I did get some sleep, but I just pretend that I was a zombie like every other dad out there. And, I was a zombie for many of those first weeks.
Seriously though, when people ask me, 'How does it feel to be a father?', I simply reply by telling them that, like anything else, it is just another phase of life. I wasn't 'ready' to be a dad. It just happened. And, like anything else, I learned to take things day by day. It is a world, however, that I have come to love and enjoy. I never want to go back to the days of bachelorhood or being childless. Though it was nice when my wife and I could gaze into each other's eyes for hours at a time without worrying about cooking for, cleaning up after, and changing a diaper of a little wee one.
I really do enjoy being a dad. Today, as I sat reading my son some books, his head was next to mine. He was rolling around on the bed next to me gurgling, listening. He wants me to retell each story again and again until he tires of it. This is a wonderful world. My son is just beginning to talk and repeat phrases and short sentences. This also means that I need to watch my potty mouth, as he's already taken up the word 'crap'. The other day, when I told him that it was time for a diaper change, he replied with 'never' and ran away. So, yes, the fun has started already. It's at the point where I cannot turn my back without something new happening. My son is now a little man, a little person. Although, even when my son was a little baby, I still took wonder in his every movement, every little noise, every moment. I used to love watching him sleep, still do. I just think about how wonderful it is that such a carnal act of lust can result in something so magnificent. Life truly is amazing!
As I reflect on fatherhood, however, I must think back to my own dad. This part isn't as Hallmark as what I describe above. In fact, I really identify a lot with the author Augusten Burroughs in the description of his dad in his books, namely A Wolf at the Table and Running with Scissors. My father is not an example to be modeled. To me, even though deep down inside somewhere I have love for this man, he is not at all the father I want to be. My father is a bully; he is psychologically abusive and totally manipulative. He uses money to control the people in his life, namely his wife and children. The only conversation I've had with him in the last year have been about finances and taxes. By the way, he acts the exact same way toward my sister, mom, and myself. He puts us down and makes us feel small. He pushes all of us around because he feels lousy about himself. Just because he has a low self-esteem, he feels better by putting down his own family.
I grew up hearing words like 'stupid', 'retarded', 'homo', 'mental', 'crazy', 'no good', 'lazy', 'unproductive', 'derelict', etc. Need I mention that I NEVER did anything to warrant any of these words. I was not as quick to grasp mathematical concepts so my dad would regularly tell me that I belonged at the special school down the street where I'd take the special bus. I wish I were joking, but I'm not. One time, when he was 'tutoring' me in math, he got so upset that he tore my Grateful Dead t-shirt in half. No matter how hard I worked to understand math, my dad made me feel like a complete failure. I learned later, by the way, that I wasn't bad at math at all. In fact, I grasped abstract concepts quite well and got problems right that only a handful of classmates could understand. It was the simple stuff, the careless errors that got me. I, however, was not bad at math. My dad was a bad teacher. That's all.
I hate delving into these past memories, but my dad really is a bastard. I learned nothing from him except how NOT to be a man. Actually, where I learned how to be a man is from his father, my grandfather. That was a man that anyone should try to emulate. My grandfather was the kindest, gentlest soul on this planet. If I made a mess, spilling cereal all over the floor or getting crayon on the furniture, he would quietly clean it up. My grandfather NEVER yelled at me or my sister. Often, we'd play a game to try to get him to yell, but he never did. When he would take afternoon naps, we would tap/tickle him and he'd swat thinking he was being bothered by a fly. Then, after five minutes, he'd open one eye, smile at both of us, and go back to napping.
My grandfather was one of a kind. Everywhere he went, people knew him. He walked out of the house looking nothing less than dapper. He would wear an overcoat, sports coat, and hat with feather in it. Dressing down for him was wearing khakis and a polo shirt. What's more is that each time I walked somewhere with him, it was like I was with a special celebrity. He had two girlfriends, in fact. And the two of them didn't know about the other one. One time, I saw my grandfather talking to one of his 'girlfriends' and he told me not to tell his other 'girlfriend' about that they were talking. He was hilarious. I used to take him grocery shopping and over to visit his sister, who lived nearby. I used to have lots of fun with my grandfather. And it wasn't because he spoiled me with toys, no, it was because he spoiled me with love. When I was with my grandfather, only I mattered. I knew I had his unconditional love. I didn't have to earn his love by proving how smart or how industrious I was. He knew I was worth more than anything money could buy.
So, I learned everything about being a dad, and the man I am today, not from my father but my grandfather. I am thankful that I had this man in my life. I only wish that my father could have learned more from his father. Instead, I got a father who is emotionally sterile and a borderline sociopath. He makes people feel bad without even realizing it, or if he does, feels little to no remorse. He was a bully in school, but unlike most bullies who grow out of this role and grow up to feel sorry for their past behavior, my dad never did this. My father continues to bully and micromanage everyone around him, especially his family. It's really a shame!
What's the first thing my father said when he learned he was a grandfather? 'Get an abortion.' I wish I were joking, but I'm not. My father is half the man his father was. And, I have learned from my father what NOT to do with my son. With my son, I WILL play catch, camp, cook, tickle, read to him, spend time with, ride bikes, go to the park, catch bugs, swim, swing, climb, play, roll around, slide, skate, and LOVE (no matter what). I will be the dad who gets his hands dirty and never have a limit on how many stories I read at bedtime. I will be firm and fair, but I will also be fun loving and silly.
Unfortunately, we cannot pick our parents. I know in my heart of hearts that my father probably did not want children. It was my mother who pushed him to have them. However, my father's stone, aloof personality has taught me that not everyone wears their heart on their sleeve. Not everyone can be as passionate and emotional about life as I am. For that I am thankful.
So, I end this post with a thought on what makes a great dad? Who do we consider both great and gross dads from books, television, and real life? Ward Cleaver. Homer Simpson. Al Bundy. Dr. Cliff Huxtable. Archie Bunker. Atticus Finch. Daddy Warbucks. Arthur Weasley. Grandpa Joe (Bucket). Darth Vader. Silas Marner. Abraham Lincoln. John F. Kennedy. Robert Kennedy. Martin Luther King Jr. Barack Obama.
The idea of dear old dad has evolved though. As a dad, we aren't removed from rearing our children. We are now heavily involved. Gone are the days where, as dads, we sit in 'our armchair' reading the paper in slippers and smoking a pipe only chiming in when appropriate. Today's dads cook, clean, sew, change diapers, and get involved as much or more than today's moms. A lot of modern parenting shares the responsibilities of raising children. Thank goodness for that. As a modern man, I wouldn't be able to stand around watching women do everything while we just smile and nod. Men should learn how to do household chores. Men should iron their own shirts and mend their own socks.
So on this father's day, I celebrate the liberated modern man who can cry openly, mop a floor to perfection, and leave every extra minute for his children and spouse/partner. Let's all raise our glass to modernity!
Modernly yours (in a metro macho way),