Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The "joys" of fatherhood

The phone rang at 7:30 last night.

My 19-year-old college freshman daughter announces that she's been in an accident en route home from school and the police are at the scene. She denies that she's hurt -- but then says her neck is sore -- and refuses an offer to come to the scene and drive her home.

She made it home. Minor damage to both cars but maybe some strain and pain.

A dad goes through a myriad of emotions and expressions at a time like this.

"You know you should have been more careful."
"Your insurance is going to skyrocket."
"Metal can be fixed. Lives can't."
"We love you anyway."

There's the alternation between upset and grief, concern and relief -- and every feeling is utterly valid.

The first ticket, the first accident, being the "dumper" or the "dumped" in young love are all parts of the rites of passage into adulthood -- events at which the old man becomes more of a spectator/cheerleader and less of the handyman.

It's not a lot of fun. Dads are supposed to be able to fix things. But as life becomes more complicated we learn that there are fewer things that we can fix and sometimes some that we shouldn't because they need to walk that walk on their own.

On their own, but not necessarily alone.

It's a bit frustrating at times. I mean, for those of us baby boomers, the dads we saw on the little screen -- Jim Anderson, Ward Cleaver, Ozzie and the like -- seemed to be always right and always able to keep their cool. Unwittingly they set a bar far too high for mere mortals to meet.

Then the writers "flipped the script" and all of the sudden dad went from "Father Knows Best" to an incompetent, blabbering boob, an insult with incalculable injury.

The most realistic of the lot was probably Howard Cunningham on "Happy Days."

"Mr. C" was sometimes right, sometimes wrong, sometimes cool, sometimes enraged but always loyal and loving. Even when he made the wrong call he usually tried to do the right thing. Sometimes he ate humble pie but not necessarily in a humiliating way.

Unfortunately for our young people there are precious few role models to ease the transition from childhood, where you are owed everything, to adulthood, where you are owed nothing. It's often a cruel shock. They want so much to be treated like adults but have no clue what that really means.

Would that I could turn pain into joy, frustration into opportunity, effort into success and rename every path "Easy Street." But that would be wrong.

It seems that in the sake of temporarily preserving self-esteem at all costs we've forgotten that there is a time and place to kick some butt. As the wall mural said when I was in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, "More sweat in training, less blood in combat."

One of the other pitfalls of parenthood is the reality that I'm not there to be your best bud, even though it would be nice if I was. By seeking to insulate our kids from failures we may have unwittingly greased the way for them to fail. Whatever happened to learning from your mistakes?

One of the best things we can do for our children isn't to solve all their problems but to help them learn the skills to do so -- assuming, of course, they're amenable to learning. (Sometimes the only way a person becomes open minded is when they crack their skull!)

Nonetheless, despite all the "correct" theory, I still wish I could fix everything.



Dad29 said...


Glenn D. Frankovis said...

I know exactly what you're talking about having gone through it myself. It's like a roller coaster ride, but I survived, my daughter has survived and you and your daughter will survive. Now I tell my kids that I'm like an aircraft carrier from which they have taken off. I'll always be there if they need a place to land.

Peter said...

You have to go back to 80s TV and Cliff Huxtable (The Cosby Show) and Jason Seaver (Growing Pains) to find dads like that.