Being the 21stCentury Good Guy: Fathers Part II
So in the last blog, we talked about fathers who weren't so great, even downright destructive. This blog focuses on the positive, good to great fathers. These are not perfect men, but they work at being the best father they can be. Of course, I am a little biased here. My happiest and most fulfilling role in life was as a Dad. It was a hard day when I no longer had kids because they were adults. I missed the evenings helping with homework, quizzing them for their spelling tests, birthday parties, slumber parties, barbecues, camping, Disney trips, late nights helping with science projects, playing baseball in the street, dance recitals, going to their Christmas plays, and the thousand other things that go into parenting. OF course, there were the less fun times that go into raising kids. The terrible twos. The typical teenage rebellion. Motivating for school. The first time they drive the car out of the driveway. Their emotional aches and pains. The worries about their health and welfare. Their mistakes. Yet, for all the tiredness, working second jobs, sacrifices, and worries as a parent, I would not trade a second of it. It is why I don't get Dads who see fathering as a burden or chore. They are missing so much when they can't see these amazing little ones right before their eyes. The fathers discussed here, get it. For them, it is a blessing to be a Dad, not a burden.
Jason was an alcoholic. It ruined his first marriage and subsequent relationships. It marred his relationship with his children. One day, he finally realized he was destroying his life and hurting his loved ones. He took that first step and entered AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and started therapy. Six years of sobriety later, he hardly recognizes the person he was. Depressed, angry, controlling, and shut down. He had a terrible childhood with a violent, alcoholic father and a drug-addicted mother. He healed those wounded parts of himself in therapy and through the 12-Step Program. Today he sponsors many recovering alcoholics, has a successful business, and is a much better father. He gave his children a role model for change, that people can face their problems, grow, and change. A very powerful lesson.
Kenny was a quirky, fun-loving father with a thirst for knowledge and exploration. He passed this trait on to his children. They fondly remember all the camping trips, visits to museums whenever they traveled, hikes through the forest teaching about the plants, animals, and trees, and traveling around the country. Kenny was a walking encyclopedia, but he managed to make it fun and exciting. Kenny resonated with me because I also loved taking my kids on exploration adventures. We would go to Matheson Hammock which was an estuary and wade through the water while I taught about the fish, the horseshoe crabs, the manta rays, and anything else we came across. Kenny was bringing the world to life for his kids.
Jose was that Dad who never missed one of his kid's games, school plays, parent-teacher nights, or any of his children's activities. He coached his daughter's Little League team but managed not to become one of those coach Dads who was critical and demanding of his own child. His children remember looking out over the audience until they could spot Dad. It made them feel important and loved. His daughter was very sad for her best friend, who was pitching in the All-State High School Championship. His father never showed (as usual). He was crushed, and she could not understand how a father could miss such an important event.
Like so many marriages, Ron's sadly ended in divorce after ten years. Although he had divorced his wife, Beth, he knew he had not divorced his children and was determined to stay relevant in their lives. He succeeded by seeing them regularly and consistently. They lived with him nearly half the time. The boys shared a bedroom with bunk beds, and the girl had her own bedroom. He ensured they had enough clothes, toys, school supplies, privacy, and whatever else they needed to make life as normal as possible at Dad's house. Most importantly, he and his ex-wife communicated often and worked hard to be respectful co-parents on the same page. They kept it between themselves whenever there were disagreements and did not involve the children. This differed significantly from Ron's and Beth's childhoods, where both their parents went through a bitter divorce. Both sets of parents constantly argued with their ex-spouses, involved their children in the arguments, repeatedly criticized the other parent, and tried to make the children choose sides. Ron and Beth were determined not to do this to their kids as they knew firsthand how destructive this was in their own lives.
Angelo came from a family where emotions were suppressed, communication was minimal, and problems were swept under the rug. Consequently, as a child, he felt his voice was not heard, if he even had a voice in the family. Angelo could never approach his parents to discuss life's usual issues and problems. Instead, they would tell him he was making a big deal over nothing and told him to figure it out. He soon stopped asking for help or advice. This was not the way he wanted to raise his children. Once a week, on Sunday evenings, the whole family got together for a "town meeting." This ritual started even when the children were toddlers. Everyone was allowed to bring up anything they had questions about or anything bothering them. The only rule was respectful listening and no interruptions. This initiated a family value system of communication, both as sharers and listeners. It spread to the dinner table and bedtime, where there were many lively discussions over the years. As the years went by, his children learned they could talk to Dad and Mom about anything, even thorny issues like sex, birth control, bullying, drugs, and alcohol. For example, Angelo and his wife entered the MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) contract with their teens. As a result, his children knew they could call anytime they were too drunk to drive and that Dad or Mom would pick them up without interrogations and criticism. (This contract has saved many teen lives.)
Bill was raised in a family where the only way was the parent's way, my way or the highway. They never made any mistakes or did anything wrong. As he grew older, he realized this wasn't true, but when he tried to confront them, they only got angry and accused him of being disrespectful and an ungrateful son. They never said, "I'm sorry." In raising his children, he made sure they knew he was human and could make mistakes. When he made a mistake, he apologized and said, "I'm sorry." Bill's kids felt validated by Dad's honesty, his holding himself accountable, and his authenticity. It taught them they did not need to be perfect to be loved.
Albert almost made the fatal mistake of trying to mold his children in his image. He was a very successful businessman but came from a difficult childhood of divorce, abuse, and neglect. As a result, Albert had little stability in his youth, so it was a priority for him as a Dad and husband to ensure financial stability for his family. He pushed his kids to be successful in business because he believed it was the only way to ensure the welfare of their future families. His motivation was fear-based, "I don't want my kids to go through what I went through." His children began resenting him because Dad ignored their wants and passions. Krista wanted to be a marine biologist. James loved music. Albert criticized their aspirations because those careers did not make good money. Then, his wife reminded him that, as a teen, he had wanted to be a photographer. Albert began to see what he was doing to his kids. He had dropped his photography dream when his father belittled him for having such a "stupid" idea. Albert began listening to his kids, realizing they were not him and that he had succeeded. He did provide them with a stable childhood. Now, his next important parenting task was to support them and help them discover their identity and dreams.
I am sure there are other good examples of fathers, perhaps your Dad, but these are the key ones that came to mind. I guarantee that the children raised by these fathers will have a much firmer foundation for success as adults and as parents themselves. As you can see, each of these fathers would agree with our nurse friend's mantra from the last blog, "This shit stops here." These men are determined to do a better job as parents, partners, and people, to stop the generations of dysfunction in their family lineage.
In the next blog we will delve into The 21st Century Good Guy: Husbands and Partners. We'll first explore partners from hell, then give examples of good to great partners in the followup blog.