I am grateful that I have had the benefit of strong fatherly influences in my life, however none of them have been of a traditional nature. Neither my natural father, nor step-father, are men of character who I choose to associate with. Rather both of them served primarily as examples of men who are unworthy of the title of father, and not only because they failed to live up to the expectations of a young man who was raised in the era of Leave It To Beaver re-runs on television. Thus over the years when I have required fatherly advice, I have sought the counsel of other men in the community who I have respected and admired.
Life In The Shadow of Great Men:
Thankfully I have reached the point in my life, where I can look back upon the experiences of my childhood, and acknowledge the fact that my father and step-father, were merely incapable of living up to the shadow cast upon their role by the likes of Ward Cleaver. However the contrast between the nature of their roles, is practically unforgivable since they grew up as part of the generation which was actually raised watching Ward & June Cleaver, acting as the perfect parental team… it seemed to me that they had examples of what perfect families are supposed to act like, they simply chose to put their personal needs and desires ahead of the greater good of their family.
Perhaps the key concept to be gleaned from shows like Leave It To Beaver, is that the people in the show are just acting… life in the real world is messy and imperfect at times. When I was born, my parents were barely out from under the wing of their parents themselves, and neither of them had a clue about what they were doing… nor were they prepared emotionally or financially, for the obligations presented by living in the real world. And to this regard, perhaps few of us are actually prepared for the role of father or mother. I know that I certainly was not ready to step into those shoes when my children were born, because the only thing that can truly prepare you for parenthood, is being a parent.
Fake It Until You Make It:
Being a parent is kind of like learning to ride a bike, you just hop on and try to keep things going, regardless of how many times you fall down or crash. Perhaps the biggest gift that I can give my children is the honesty of understanding that I am merely human, and asking for them to accept that fact. In the hope of course, that in learning to accept that their father is merely human, that learn to accept that they are merely human also, and that as such, they do not have to be perfect to be loved by me unconditionally.
The simple truth is that none of us are born knowing what we are doing. Everything that we know how to do, all of the knowledge which we possess, is the result of learning things through a process of trial and error… and parenthood is no different.
Most of the principles which I tried to instill in my children, and perhaps some behaviors which they may have learned without my conscious intention, are due to the positive and negative influences of my childhood. I tried to be the father that I wished my father could have been, and naturally found myself repeating a lot of my father’s “mistakes” along the way ~ all the while, chastising myself for failing in my role as the perfect father, because I am anything but perfect… this is not an excuse for bad parenting, just part of being human.
There were days when I made what seemed to be the exact same mistakes which my father and step-father made; we can write those off as my merely following in their footsteps by example, but the truth is that my actions were based on choices which I made, based on my attempts to meet my own personal needs at those moments. I could choose to blame my father’s for the mistakes which I made as a father, however there is a strange kind of satisfaction that comes with learning to accept personal responsibility for the mistakes which I’ve made as a father, and seeing how my children have successfully navigated the storms created by those challenges, and become the amazing young people that they are in spite of my influence.
Of course there were plenty of times, when I made mistakes which my father’s never had the opportunity to make, because each moment is a new experience which presents us with new choices and opportunities for growth. I raised my children in a completely different time than my parents raised me, a time with different challenges and opportunities which resulted in a myriad of new decisions and choices.
With this perspective in mind, you should be aware that no matter how many books you read on the subject of parenting, or how many parenting classes you attend, or even how many children you have, each new moment of time spent parenting, presents us with a new challenge, which we may not know how to deal with until the moment presents itself, and we find ourselves saying or doing something, which later we either get to ponder our success in that moment with amazement, or possibly regret our decision to act in one way or another for some time… based largely on whether we think we did a good or bad job of dealing with it, and sometimes this is decided by pondering the differences between our reaction to the circumstances presented to us by our children, in comparison to the manner in which our parents reacted when we presented them with “the same thing” which is actually completely different because the people involved and circumstances are not exactly the same.
Interestingly enough, despite the differences involved in parenting activities from one generation to another, I have to admit that nothing is more infuriating than the moment when your children manage to do something so egregious, that you find yourself saying the exact same words to your children that you swore you would never say, because you hated hearing them from your parents while you were growing up! But without those opportunities, I would not have had the experience of understanding where my parents were coming from at the time… nor would I have the opportunity to review my part in those transgressions and consider the situation from the perspective provided by the experience of now being an adult.
I truly believe that as parents most of us fake it until we make it, and sometimes “making it” merely means that our children managed to survive the challenge of being our children. Hardly a day passes when I am not amazed that my children not only survived being my child, but that they seem to have thrived in despite of my best attempts at fatherhood.
I’ll leave you with this thought…
Throughout the course of my coaching business, I have talked with so many people who are stressed out over their perceived inability to be perfect mother, or father, or even husband and wife. In truth, none of us are perfect, in fact we are incredibly imperfect, and to this regard I’d like to invite you to the challenge known as the human race. The winners are the few people who look upon the challenges which they face throughout the course of their lives as mere opportunities to evolve and improve the nature of our spirit. Life is not about being perfect, it is about learning to love ourselves, and the people who are in our lives in spite of their imperfections.
When you make a parenting mistake, take a moment to consider how you could have done it differently; and then if appropriate, try to have a conversation with your child about how you would have liked to have dealt with the situation in retrospect. One of the best conversations that I’ve had with one of my sons, occurred a short time ago, and centered on the differences between how he felt that I should have been able to deal with the challenge of my wife’s suicide, which of course was based upon his perception of his father being some sort of “super dad” (whatever that is) and the reality of my being a human being.
I’ll be honest and tell you that it was a difficult conversation to have with my son, but I know that it was good for both of us. And in the end, I believe that he grew from the experience, and that my friends is what being a good father is all about… it’s not about being perfect, it’s about being there and continually striving to improve your skills as a parent, and maintaining active participation with your family.