I have a very close friend, one whom I have known nearly all my life, that due to distance and finances I haven’t had a chance to see in a few years. But, due to the marvel of binary functions, algorithms, and the wonder that is the computer age, we are able to talk on-line quite often.
She recently shared with me how her son was injured in an accident, and her frustration with her ex over the injury. Having been divorced several times myself, it got me to thinking about how we, as men, have gotten to where we are. I am in my fifties, and can vaguely remember reruns of Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best. I vividly remember Mike and Carol Brady leading their blended brood of children through the hazards of childhood. I watched Shirley Jones and David Cassidy sing their bubble gum rock back in the early ’70’s. These were shows that, while there may have been wild things going on off-screen, they painted a picture of the American family as something strong, something resilient, and even to a point noble.
Then the ’80’s came along, and instead of Mike Brady we ended up with Al Bundy. Men became jokes, and were made to look like fools, incompetent, or just plain stupid. The role of the American male became a footnote in the social lexicon. And to make matters worse, we ended up with Alan and Charlie Harper, the quintessential wimp and the hedonistic ass.
For thirty years boys were told via what they watched that males really weren’t all that important, or that they should just be interested in one thing, sex. So where has that left us as a society and culture? We have a generation and a half that is unable to understand that any male can make a baby, but it takes a man to raise a child.
Please do not get me wrong, I was not a great father. I too fell into the trap of thinking that I could do as a pleased and that it really didn’t matter what I did because society just accepted men as being screw ups. But now with the hindsight of a number of years, I realize just how duped I and my peers have been.
The role models that we have invited into our homes nightly have been abysmal. Men and women whose only claim to fame is being a freak show for the media and paparazzi. We’ve seen the crotch shots of Paris and Britney. Heard Alex cuss out his young daughter. Heard Mel’s anti-Semitic tirades. Seen the video of David crawling across the floor to eat a hamburger. I could go on cataloging the insanity that has become popular culture.
The real question is: What make a man a father?
Is a father the man who brings home a six figure pay check, but ignores his own children?
Is a father the man who spends an hour digging in the back yard for worms so he can take his kids fishing?
Is a father the man who was the star athlete in high school or college, but when his own children say they don’t like sports he shuns them?
Is a father the man who never gives up on teaching his son or daughter how to throw a ball?
Is a father the man who drinks himself to sleep every night?
Is a father the man who lets his kids have the last piece of roast at dinner?
Is a father the man who blames everyone in the family for all of his short comings and problems?
Is a father the man who, even when exhausted from work, sits and listens to his children’s stories from their day?
Is a father the man who, when is son ducks from a ball heading his way, calls his son a “nancy boy”?
Is a father the man who, while it may pain him, allows his children to be different than he is?
Is a father the man who, to buy the affection of his children, allows them to do whatever they please, and wants to be their “friend?”
Is a father the man who allows his children to make their own choices, but steps in and protects them from themselves?
I never really had a father, mine died when I was two, so I never had a “living” role model on which to base my own sojourn into fatherhood. When I became a dad I just sort of “winged” it as my children grew. Thank God they had a mother that was a nurturer and had more sense than I when they were young.
When my son was about five or six, for Christmas I bought him a BB rifle (don’t ask why, I just did). That summer we were out fishing and he wanted to bring his BB gun with to practice. We were sitting along the river, and I showed him how to aim, and he took shots at tree stumps and rocks along the river. At one point he asked if he could shoot at a tree. I looked, and the tree was about 30 yards away, so I figured that he would be okay. I heard the pop of the BB gun go off, and then I heard him scream. The tree he was talking about was actually behind us about three feet, and the pellet ricocheted and hit him in the face just below the eye.
Three things ran through my mind, “Ralphie you’ll put your eye out,” “What am I going to tell his mother?” and “What am I going to tell MY mother?” Fortunately the pellet only hit his cheek, and other than a welt on his face he was fine. I guess I failed the father test that day.
Neither of my children are athletic, even though I studied martial arts for years, neither really showed an interest. I played some ball as a kid, but neither of them took up an appreciation for America’s past time. But both learned to fish at an early age, and my son always skunked me when we went. I never took up golf, following Twain’s thoughts that “golf is a good walk spoiled” so neither care for golf, other than putt-putt.
The one thing that I do think I did get right was that I let them make up their own minds, and supported them in their decisions. It wasn’t always easy, and at times terrifying. But in the long run it did pay off.
They are now both adults, and we have a mutual respect for one another, and neither is trying to win my approval or affection, they know they have it. They both turned out to be bright, intelligent adults that have and are still learning to set their own paths. So, in some way I may have actually been a “success” as a dad, although I still feel I could have done so much better.