Archive for the ‘fathers’ Tag

Where are the Dads?   2 comments

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a woman. When women take men to task for being less-than-adequate parents, I’m usually the first to point out that they need to take their own inventory before they smear the male gender, but in dealing with the causation of our culture of violence, I found myself circling this issue a few too many times. To avoid overstepping my personal boundaries, let me introduce my husband as guest co-blogger and/or interviewee.  He is not responsible for everything written here, but he was a large contributor.

“It’s bad enough that you weren’t prepared to be a father … you might have considered using contraception to prevent that, Dad. But failing to be there for your kids and then not holding yourself accountable for whom they become is far worse.”

For a young boy, the most important human relationship is between himself and his father. The offspring looks up to his progenitor, learns from his example and hangs on his every word. Many young boys see their fathers as heroes wholly blameless and without flaw. To a young male, Dad is who he aspires to be.

Though no man is perfect, a father who sets a terrible example makes it so much harder for his young son to be a good man. The basic notions of what it takes to be a man are imprinted on the child from his experiences with his father. My father was (and remains) a functional alcoholic, womanizer and workaholic, and his lack of character led to estrangement from my mother (another topic altogether that I’ll leave in Lela’s capable hands) and lack of full attachment with me. He chose himself over his son, medicating himself with booze, wealth, wives, mistresses and possessions. He is an extremely charming and callow man who has both adoring fans and bitter enemies, two ex-wives and one who wishes she were a widow, four children (that he knows of) with various opinions of him, and siblings who keep their hands on their wallets when he comes around. It’s not all his fault. He had a poor example for a father too.

Despite experiencing firsthand the damage alcohol causes and a strong Christian faith that teaches me that alcohol is not an answer, whenever I’m faced with a stressful situation, my first instinct is to have a drink. My father impressed on me that men handle stress through alcohol, and that basic instinctual reaction is extremely difficult to overcome. Some fathers beat their sons. Others display a stoic lack of emotion, reducing the father-son relationship to a never-ending chase for approval on the part of the son. Patterns of behavior are learned and often repeated; however poorly the example is set, it defines the son’s life.

My father’s example to me was piss-poor, but I still needed him in my life. My adolescence was a troubled time, as adolescence often is. Not knowing my father well left me with huge holes in coming to know myself. I could give tons of examples where he neglected me – from living 1500 miles apart, to showing up once a year to drop me off at camp, to never once coming to see me play sports or act in a play, to scoffing at my skateboarding. I would have traded camp and the lavish gifts for a weekend of undivided attention from my sober father. He could have taught me to shave. Yeah, probably the most pivotal point of transforming from boy to man, I was alone because my father had neglected his duty to his son. I think of that now as my son deals with acne and searching for whiskers on his smooth young skin.

With single-parent families becoming more common, the traditional family unit is harder to find. Courts generally keep children with the mother in custody cases, but it remains imperative that the father strives to maintain access to his children, however limited. Yes, there are extreme situations where no contact is better, but in my opinion having a relationship with both parents is crucial. Even if one parent is a poor example, it is better for the child to have discovered this for themselves, as unanswered questions and biased perceptions impair the youngster’s development through adolescence and self-discovery. Lela’s older half-brother knew his father who sounds like he would have liked hanging out with my dad; in the end, though his father was a poor example, he chose to buck the trend knowing he was swimming against the flow. I don’t have that and it still hurts.

The onus is on parents to maintain these relationships in safe and mutually acceptable venues. When parents use children as weapons in custody battles, or allow their own opinions of each other to cloud their parental judgment, it is the child who suffers the most. Parents need to remember that just because somebody is a bad partner, it does not make him or her a bad parent.

A child needs to know who his parents are first-hand. A boy needs to know who his father is, unfiltered by those who either love him or hate him.

There are always going to be situations where the parents are absent through no fault of their own; they may be sent to war or pass away from an illness or tragic accident. Sometimes, absence is unavoidable. Addiction, laziness, or personal disputes between parents aren’t acceptable excuses. They will damage the children in ways adults cannot foresee.

Becoming a parent isn’t something that should be taken lightly. It is a lifelong commitment, and as a parent, your duty is to do your very best by your child. Your own wants and desires are secondary to the development and nurturing of your offspring. If, for instance, you have an addiction, you need to seek the help that is available — not tomorrow, not after “one last binge”—now. If you are in dispute with your ex-partner, resolve it. If you are scared your child will reject you, risk it.

Don’t be an absentee father. However long it has been, whatever mistakes you have made, pick up the phone and make the call. You’re a parent—and you owe that to your child.

In seeking to identify the problems that exist within our society that might cause young men to be so angry that they want to kill strangers, the absence of fathers in so many homes stood out to me. Dads, where are you?

 

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