Dads are not perfect. Mine certainly was not. In fact, I can recall very few times of memorable engagement with my dad. Yet, my dad greatly influenced what I am today.
During my first teaching assignment, I discovered three powerful realities about kids and fathers. They helped define my personal mandate as a father and give me even greater clarity about my role as a grandfather.
I cut my teaching teeth in Prince Rupert, a rugged fishing town 500 miles up the coast from Vancouver, B.C. The school served as a melting pot of well-mannered middle-class children and rough “wrong-side-of-the-tracks” kids. The latter was predominant.
Herbie (not his real name) was a small-for-his-age fourth grader. His mother regularly entertained men and his father was an abusive drunk. (“Alcoholic” does not adequately describe Herbie’s father!). More than once, Herbie spent the cold, rainy night huddled on the doorstep, locked out of the house.
- Reality #1: Kids long for approval of and relationship with their fathers. In my opinion, it is their deepest and strongest motivation.
It was hard not to feel compassion for Herbie, despite his misbehavior in class and aggressive interaction with peers on the playground. As I got to know him and learn more of his story, I wondered how does a little kid like Herbie deal with such neglect and abuse. For the most part, he didn’t—Herbie simply couldn’t process the trauma he experienced every day!
Yet, I discovered in Herbie a deep-rooted yearning for approval from his father. It was a driving motivation. And even more astounding was his deep longing for relationship with his father. It didn’t make sense, knowing the kind of man his dad was!
- Reality # 2: Kids are very forgiving of their father’s short-comings—dads don’t have to be perfect.
Herbie taught me the second reality about kids and dads. As our relationship grew, Herbie confided emotions and thoughts that seethed inside his small frame. It no longer surprised me that Herbie exploded at the drop of a pin. Yet, he never blamed his father for the abuse. Instead, he excused it with, “He only gets that way when he’s drunk.” Herbie desperately clung to those few sober moments—trust me, they were very few—rather than dwell on the continual mistreatment.
There is, however, a tipping point. I don’t know what became of Herbie, but without intervention, he was headed for disaster. Anger was growing into an uncontrollable gorilla inside.
- Reality #3: Fathers have far greater impact on the personality, character and future of their children than they realize.
My experience as an educator and a minister has brought me to understand the third reality about kids and dads. Some fathers impact their children by intention, others by default, but all shape the personality, character and future of their children. Fortunately, some children are able to overcome childhood trauma to become healthy positive fathers of their own children.
Growing up on the farm, I admired my hard-working dad. I worked hard to measure up to his strong work ethic. I was amazed how he could fix things, often improving on the original. I watched him endure hardship and adversity with extraordinary stamina, hope and unshakeable faith.
My dad was not perfect, but he was a rock. Visible cracks and chinks, yes, but solid, beautifully-grained marble. I love you and miss you, Dad.
Image courtesy Pixabay