Fatherhood can be a complex word and topic, one that is often based on a wide landscape of possible experiences. But this Father’s Day weekend I wanted to share my own personal experience and thoughts on what fatherhood means and has meant to me.
We’ve all heard the age old debate on whether or not fathers should be their child’s friend or disciplinarian. But that simple either/or mentality has always missed the mark for me. Fatherhood is more than friendship more than discipline—it is a category unto itself. A father should not simply be a caregiver, a provider, a disciplinarian, a teacher, a mentor, a role model, a confidant, a leader or a friend but rather some unique, beautiful blend of that and more. We often try to put a label on what fatherhood is—but the reality is there are so many layers to fatherhood—and usually as a dad you are just trying your best to balance it all. At times you might feel you have overweighted the bedtime stories, ice cream, slip n’ slide and pillow forts vs. the homework, practice, chores, giving “the look" and teaching.
But what I’ve found is, there is no perfect formula—it’s not 60% fun dad and 20% strict dad and 20% teaching dad vs. some other concoction. There is no calculator or algorithm that big data and artificial intelligence have found to create the ideal parent; and even if there was—it would fail miserably in the execution.
All of us have witnessed great moments of fatherhood either in our own journey or as an observer. What stands out in those great moments? Often times it is simply a dad, putting in a sincere effort. In my experience, great fathers show up and try. They engage, they participate, they embarrass themselves, they put their children’s dreams, hopes, needs and wants above their own. That is what it means to be a father. Sometimes a child needs a lesson, sometimes they need a cookie and sometimes they just need a father’s hand on their back.
There is a great poem about fatherhood and how easy it is to forget what really matters. It is referenced in Dale Carnegie’s famous book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and is called Father Forgets by W. Livingston Larned.
Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.
There are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.
At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, “Goodbye, Daddy!” and I frowned, and said in reply,
“Hold your shoulders back!”
Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your friends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive‐and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!
Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped. You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither.
And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs. Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me?
The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding‐this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.
And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!
It is feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: “He is nothing but a boy‐a little boy!”
I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.
-W. Livingston Larned
We all know it goes too fast. Fatherhood is the ultimate example of long days and short years. So my challenge to you on this Father’s day weekend is just remember to try. Be a dad not just a friend or disciplinarian. Just try. Give your kids your best and while they will not always be appreciative or perfect, in the long run they will love you for it and the memories you will create will be worth every ounce of effort and far more.