As Fathers’ Day draws near, some of our Familius authors reflect on what fatherhood means to them.
"Don’t assume that every time your kid acts up he’s just being ornery. Consider for a moment how many things can afflict the normal kid in the course of a day. He might have a stomachache, a headache, a rash, a scrape, a cut, a bruise, a goose egg, sunburn, windburn, fever, or chills; he might be cutting teeth or be constipated or carsick or have gas pains or a cold or allergies. He might feel dizzy, hungry, tired, mad, sad, scared, or embarrassed about something. He may be suffering from pre-nap exhaustion or post-nap grogginess. He may be getting measles, roseola, mumps, pink eye, flu, sinusitis, chicken pox, or an ear infection (or, if you feed him nothing but the cereal and frozen waffles he wants, scurvy).”
My son Michael is nearly 18. Most of the time, he sits in his room, moving his mouse around. Slaying aliens and other bad guys. He has developed a whole set of online chums. They connect regularly and he rarely shares this with me. We go to movies together (the latest: Godzilla), but seldom talk. "How many treats do I get, one or two?" Or, "What'd you think?" "It was OK." That's about it. When we get home, it's, "Well, you know where I'll be." It's easy to believe, faced with this relentless apathy, that fatherhood – telling my boy stories, reading to him, taking him to the park, on outings, sitting him on my lap, walking him to/from school – is a thing of the past.
Not so. Because Michael still listens to me – but on his terms. And often he seems to be spinning silly fantasies. "What would you do," he asks, "if we had a million dollars?" Or, "Do you wish we lived in a mansion?" What he's really asking me to do is to talk about the richness of our life together. He wants to know what's really valuable to me. It can't be money (we don't have any), so what are the things I really care about? Tell me.
In other words, Michael is still asking me for fatherly guidance, and I'm still able to provide it. Wonderful.
“My father was a New York boy, the only child born to a plainspoken mother and a father in the auto repair business, car fix-it operations with gasoline pumps out front.
My father was a civil engineering student, and quickly thereafter, a World War II Navy man who married the socialite daughter of a fourth-generation furniture manufacturer. Two weeks after their wedding, his mother suddenly died, and directly after the funeral, he left his beautiful bride and shipped out to sea. He was 25 years old.
My father was a pre-cast concrete contractor, a dog-lover, a morning newspaper reader, a John Wayne movie watcher, an election-day voter.
Year after year, on sunbaked summer afternoons when we were young, my father coached my brothers’ Little League teams. Year after year, on Sunday nights in the dead of winter, he drove my sister and me to school-sponsored dances ten miles away from our home, and was there, waiting, when the last song ended.
From spring to fall, my father was a Weber Kettle barbecue-er, a tomato and zucchini gardener, a Saturday afternoon lawn mower who returned to the house in the day’s waning spangled with clippings, to shower and shave, to put on clean clothes for the table and begin the evening meal in prayerful thanksgiving for the food. In autumn he baked apple pies and doled them out to neighbors. In winter he simmered great batches of beef stew for the poor.
My father was a masterly storyteller who, most every night, regaled his six children with humorous observances he had saved up from the day. He was the first to laugh at his own wonderful jokes.
My father was an after-dinner Encyclopedia Britannica reader, a late night pipe-smoker, a wee-hours snacker, a Jeep driver, a reader of long books, a family ancestry recorder, a model ship builder.
My father made sure to take my mother to the Casa Loma ballroom at least twice a year. Each time, he quietly tipped the bandleader so he and his bride of many decades could dance once again to “Tea for Two.”
My father was a two-time cancer survivor, a late-life diabetic whose waistbands were dotted with blood. He wore false teeth that didn’t fit well. He read with eyeglasses from Walgreen's. He eventually succumbed to a rare disease called Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia.
On his deathbed, his last words to his 40-year-old son were these: “Be a good boy.”
In the end, my father left us nothing...and everything there is worth the leaving.”
“I remember my late dad as a warrior, standing up to those much bigger than him in pursuit of justice, no matter the cost, as a magician who knew things about this world, its rocks, its machines, its countries and more, that I would just marvel at, as a lover who would embrace his family with tears and joy, unabashedly, as royalty, whose pride and position were gently and humbly borne.
Happy Father's Day Benjamin Melmed.”
“Being a father is the greatest joy in my life! To see my children grow into responsible, loving people is a reward that cannot be duplicated. When I was a child, I longed for my father’s attention and wanted him to be my hero. Unfortunately, he had demons that did not allow this to happen. There is no doubt this impacted my mental health and confidence and that of my five siblings. It has even had some impact two generations later.
I vowed to be the best dad I could be, but it took me awhile to figure it all out because I had no role model. I made mistakes, but they were overcome by my obvious love and dedication to my kids. All it really takes to be a great dad is to be involved, consistent, have high principles, and be loving! While this is all it takes, any one of these characteristics can be an individual challenge we must overcome as dads. While protecting them is your number one responsibility, you must also teach your kids respect, and responsibility to others and themselves. This is too often overlooked.
Now I’m a grandfather, and I consider it to be the most wonderful gift of all! Having children that are now great parents themselves, I know I don’t have to worry about my grandchildren’s futures. My daughters married wonderful men who are dedicated, loving fathers. I can spoil my grandchildren (a little) knowing they will be taught respect and self-responsibility by their parents.
Never underestimate your influence as a father! You may realize you have influence; what you may not realize is the depth and breadth of that influence. Your children need you. Your wife needs you to share in parenting. And society needs you to bring responsible people into our world.
“I have based my life according to how my father showed me, and fortunately, still does. I saw consideration for others above himself. If we were low on milk or heaven forbid, ice cream, before we knew it he was out the door fetching the necessary items for us. No big deal right? It wasn't so much that he did it; it was that he did it with joy.
I also learned about integrity and dignity. When it was necessary, he worked two jobs. He taught us to earn what we wanted, and if we couldn't, we just lived without it. I never felt that we lacked "anything." He taught me that "free" was never really free. He taught me to work diligently and above and beyond your duties: to work well, so that you could hold your head high with pride and dignity.
He also enjoys life. Specifically, singing.
To this day, I have never heard or witnessed my dad raise his voice, curse, or be angry. The unending patience...How's that for setting a good example?
I wish more fathers would realize how much their presence impacts their children.”
“Being a dad can be scary. Downright frightening, really.
It's responsibility, and not all of us are up to it. It means caring for another person. Being mindful of their wants and needs. Not simply providing food for them when they're hungry, but planning your day around them. Each day. Every day. All week, all month, the whole year, your whole life. Their whole life.
Being a dad is stressful. If anything goes wrong, it's your job to fix it. That goes for the kids, the house, the car, for finances, and for anything else (i.e. everything) that can go wrong. It means thinking about what could go wrong, and then preventing it before anything does. Being a dad means being an example. Children really do imitate their parents, so it's dad's job to set a good example and to stick with it. It's dad's job to stick with what he says and does, because the example is necessary and it must be consistent. Being a dad means playing by ear. Improvisation goes hand-in-hand with fatherhood. It means figuring out how to father a newborn. How to care and provide for an individual that can do nothing for themselves. It also means that a year later, when the newborn has grown teeth and is crawling and babbling around the house, that dad figures out how to father a one-year-old. At some point, dad should figure out how to father a two-year-old, and then a three-year-old, a four-year-old, and so on.
Being a father is cumulative. The role is the same, from beginning to end, but the understanding and application come only through time and experience.
Let me think of some of the dads in my life. I have a dad. I myself am a dad. Two of my brothers are dads. My brothers-in-law are dads, as are my friends and my uncles. That's about twenty dads off the top of my head. I've known most of these people before they became dads - before they took on the role of father. This was a great group of guys to begin with, but they remind me that being a dad means being better. Being better for yourself and being better for your family. It means doing what needs to be done, including the worst difficulties and challenges, because you love your family and they love you. Because you love serving them and you love being a dad.
Being a dad is scary, frightening, stressful, improvisational and cumulative. And, of course, being a dad is being better.”