I’m doing lots of reflecting and remembering these days about my own pop (an annual occurrence now), as friends near and far are dealing with their own versions of fatherly craziness. At the same time, I’m observing my friends who are dads and marvelling at the deftness of care, concern, love and attention they are able to apply with seeming ease. No lessons (or even great role models in some cases), just good old-fashioned common sense, love, discipline and real concern and interest in the well-being of their little creatures.
My own pop experience was filled with confusion, anger, hurt, separation and loneliness, sprinkled every now and then with laughter and fun, and the occasional nugget of wisdom (kind of like icing and roses on a horrible cake). Mostly it was just a confusing and ultimately unsatisfying relationship that has left me with the legacy of abandonment issues and a conflicting relationship style of independent neediness. But enough about my psyche. It is other fathers I wanted to talk about.
The position of father is conferred on someone by simple biology – no need to explain here how that works. The role of father, though, requires acceptance of responsibility, love, and sacrifice. Sometimes the best of these dads are recognized by others outside the family, but their partners and children may not fully appreciate or respect how good they are as dads until much later in life. The busy-ness of life and the demands of self sometimes cloud people’s view of the good things that are right in front of them.
The challenging fathers I’m aware of – my own included – come from the same baby-boomer generation, but their origins are different geographically, and so I assume socially as well. Perhaps there is something to the nurture notion – that their own upbringing has shaped their current personas. But I think that is too simple, giving an excuse to current behaviour rather than requiring personal responsibility from these folks. Or perhaps mental illness is an unacknowledged hallmark of that generation; that might explain a lot.
When I look around now and see my examples of fathers today, I can’t help but think that childhood experiences or legacies from parents are not the determining features that pop psychology would have us believe. The good fathers I know – and there are blessedly several – have their own dysfunctional and challenging pasts, and yet their emphasis with their own children on stability, discipline, love, respect, compassion, and common sense are inspiring and uplifting.
I’m therefore inclined to look at that older generation somewhat askance, and consider that their craziness and dysfunction are primarily self-indulgences. Perhaps even as a byproduct of their own age – growing up as indulged baby-boomers, and then living through the “me” 70s – they feel righteous in claiming that they can’t help themselves, that they deserve their digressions and tantrums because, after all, they had it rough, or at least didn’t get what they wanted. Rather like the spoiled children that baby boomers were raised to be.
I take heart in the good dads I know, and hope that their sons and daughters will ultimately appreciate the efforts and love of their pops, and not focus on single negative instances as defining features of their upbringing (“I’ll never be a successful musician because my dad missed my Grade 4 band recital” is ridiculous). No one is perfect, and even these good dads will make mistakes – miss opportunities, lose their tempers, become distracted in their middle age – but I hope that they can recognize their own humanity in that, and not give up on establishing good and lasting relationships with their kids.
(To be fair, I feel that most of this is gender neutral – mothers can be any or all of the above as well, creating their own legacies of both strong individuals and psychic wreckage.)