Things My Dad(s) Taught Me

“…Dressed in gray, did he say, ‘Hold my hand’?  I said, ‘Love’s easier when it’s far away’.  We sat and watched a distant light.” – Ships (Ships That Pass In The Night) (1979), recorded by Barry Manilow.  Composer:  Ian Hunter

Father’s Day was never, ever warm and fuzzy.  For me, growing up, it was to be emotionally avoided.  Without making a punching bag out of two men in my life, I will attempt to bring you into where I am on this.

My mom and bio-dad parted ways when I was two years old.  It was a sour time, a sour marriage before it began.  She met a man a couple of years later.  While dating, I began to call him “Daddy”, without prompting from my mom.  They married when I was five.  It was a hard life with him for many reasons.  In the end, they divorced four years later.  She never remarried again.  Both men refused to pay child support.  Both men were never part of my upbringing.  Both men were strangers to me.  Both men didn’t communicate with me.  No playing catch.  No camping trips.  No ice cream runs.  No lessons on how to tie a tie.  No tips on females.  No birthday cards.  No Christmas gifts.  No dad in the stands at my karate tournaments, graduations or concerts.  Absent in the true sense of the word.  My mom’s dad took the father role as best he could.  The ex-dads wanted me in their lives only after I became an adult.  (The same happened to Manilow, thus “Ships” lyrics.)  Distant is the description of my relationship with them.  To this day, I find it very difficult to find a Father’s Day card that fits.  I HATED Father’s Day.

You’re going to think I’m nuts.  Growing up, I mentally adopted family friends as my unofficial replacement dads.  I had three or four men who were dads of my running buddies, my high school choir director, dads of a couple of girlfriends, etc.  (They never knew it.) When I was using great imagination, I fantasized TV show characters as fathers.  Jerry Haynes from the Mr. Peppermint Show, Bill Bixby of Courtship of Eddies’ Father, Robert Young of Marcus Welby and Father Knows Best, James Arness from Gunsmoke, John Wayne, Jerry Lewis, Brian Keith from Family Affair, and….Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise….of course.  When thinking about it, they were all representatives of manly-men of great honor, strength and stout hero-types.  HOW SAD!  At the time, it was a desire to fill the gaping hole in my life.  For me, it wasn’t sad at all.

Tab & Me Nov 1987

Then, November 1987 came.  I became a dad for the very first time.  My focus about Father’s Day began to shift off its personal paradigm.  I have three daughters whom I dearly and fiercely love.  Authentic fatherhood has its ups and downs for sure, but there’s nothing like it.  When society learns fatherhood is more than getting someone pregnant, maybe this culture would make a 180.

Let me offer you a list of what my dads taught me.  Who knows, maybe this will help a young father-to-be somewhere.  I am not a perfect dad, by any stretch, but I know how to aim for it.  Here’s what I have learned over the last 30 years.

T&M kiddie pool

  • Jump in the kiddie pool, even if someone is watching.
  • Serve as Mr. Mom as much as you can…change those diapers.
  • Time is champ.  Give all of it you can.  One day, time will be up.
  • Read the Father’s Day cards in the store.  See where you’re lacking.
  • Go ahead, ask for directions.  They’ll remember and size you up as salt of the earth.
  • Don’t disappear when that toddler wants to pull your beard.  Enjoy while you can.
  • Attend every single event if it’s at all possible. (Recitals, musicals, open house, T-Ball, spelling bee, award ceremonies…)
  • Play dress-up and make-up sessions with YOU as the model!  Doll house time, play-dough and Barbie moments have a gigantic chunk of value.
  • If reading assembly instructions all night on Christmas keeps you up, revel in it.
  • Eat the imaginary cake served on that little plastic plate, along with the imaginary cup of tea.  Make-believe is a wonderment, even though you have forgotten.
  • Teach integrity and tolerance by example.  Let them see and hear you in tight, uncomfortable times.  Keep the lid on your temper in traffic.  They have big eyes and ears.
  • Introduce them to a cop early.  Let them see they are dads and moms too.
  • Be over-the-top with congrats, even if the achievement seems insignificant.
  • Encourage efforts, even if they give up quicker than you want them to.
  • Read to them.  After that, read to them some more.  Do it with zeal & gusto.
  • Watch with great focus when they want to “perform” for you in the living-room.
  • Remember this: Whatever game is on the screen, those players and coaches won’t be holding your hand on your deathbed a few years from now.
  • Take your kids out on dates.  Together AND separately, at a movie, dinner, museum.
  • If you have daughters, show them early-on how a gentleman treats his date.  If you have sons…speak out about how to treat their mom and sisters.  They’ll remember.

Megan & Me KCBI

  • Nurture their talents and interests, even if they’re not yours.
  • Watch those kiddie shows.  Participate.  See those obnoxious, juvenile movies with them.  You’re not the target audience for a reason.  Oh, and share the popcorn.
  • Be generous with chatter.   Your kiddo may have a long saga to share, but stay focused and ask questions.  Let them know they have your sole attention.
  • It is not a chore to drive them to & fro.  Wherever that party is, be their “Have Car, Will Travel” guy.  On the way, insist on all devises to be turned off and have conversation.  After you pick them up, have them tell you everything they experienced, even if it will bore you to tears.  Remember, it’s a privilege.
  • Show them you respect them as individuals.  Avoid the “I am king” syndrome.  Soon, you will learn the “king” is a fool.
  • Be one who indulges in teachable moments, but leave lots of room for failure.
  • When failure comes, always project the truth!  WE ALL FAIL.  Get up, you ain’t hurt.
  • Expose them to a variety of cultures and art, if it’s in line with values you consider appropriate.
  • Pass your faith onto them.  Teach them in the way they “should” go.  Thanks, Solomon.
  • Know their friends.  BE NOSY ABOUT IT.  It usually saves loads of heartache later.
  • When corrections need to be applied, be sure to explain why you disagree, or deem a subject as one that goes against your principles or values.  Never leave them wondering where you stand on things.  Recall, you are raising a society of one.
  • If not a single dad, love your wife loyally in front of them.  Show love in your home.
  • Never play good cop/bad cop concerning your wife.  In the end, they need to see mom and dad are one force, one mind, one decision.  Yes, it’s hard, but parenting isn’t for the weak.
  • Honor your parents in front of your kids.  Let them grow up knowing the elders are to be revered, unless their grandparents are criminals.  Sure, it’s a case-by-case basis.  Grandparents are not throw-away items from a storage unit.  Just know that my girls grew up respecting my two fathers, even with the soiled history.  Remember, they will have kids someday and you will be the elder.
  • Ask yourself what you want them to say at your memorial service and act accordingly.  If you don’t care, I recommend scheduling a vasectomy.
  •  Always remember, time is short.  Blink and your baby wears a cap and gown.

D...Me June 2017

Don’t let your kids apply-and-cry each time they hear Harry Chapin’s, “Cat’s In The Cradle”.  Be there.  Be available.  Be attentive.  Be willing.  Be loving.  Be a servant.  Be playful.  Be wise.  Be protective.  Be a disciplinarian.  They will remember.

Yes, my dads taught me a lot.  They taught me how not to be.

When leaving this earth it will be comforting knowing your child has plenty of fuel for the race.

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” – St Paul – Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)

Me and T-M-D Sept 2016

 

 

 

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