This Father’s Day, I’m feeling nostalgic, because my youngest child just turned 18. So, on one hand, I have completed my legal responsibility as a parent and a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders. On the other hand, my golden time of sharing their daily lives is coming to an end. Already, my role has changed from provider and enforcer, to banker and counselor. They still come to me with their problems. But, I’m no longer necessary. I’m merely convenient. Soon, they will be out on their own.
Lessons from my Forefathers
On Father’s Day, I often think about the men who preceded me. I come from a long line of staunch men, whose first priority has always been their families. From my cowboy Grandpa who raised 9 kids from 3 families. To my Dad, who raised 11 kids from two families in two countries. To my step-dad who raised three daughters all by himself. To my uncles who are like fathers to us. To my brothers whose children are practically my own.
I never really had to ask a lot of questions about becoming a Dad. The example was set long before I had children of my own. The bar was high, the expectations obvious and the weight of responsibility heavy. It was all very natural for me and I stepped into the role with confidence. There was never a question of doing the right thing for my kids. It was a matter of passing the wisdom and experience to the next generation to ensure their future success at parenting.
The Terrifying Uncertainty
One of the frightening things you learn about parenting is you really aren’t in control of teenage children. You can punish and threaten them. You can nag and embarrass them. You can even make their life a living hell. But, when it all comes down to it, they either choose to obey you or they don’t. If you develop a solid relationship during their pre-teen years, you have a pretty good shot at happiness. If you haven’t, you may be in for some tough times.
Another scary subject I am facing is have I prepared them for the future? As one is headed off to college and the other is working, the reality sets in that they are going to have to earn a living in very difficult times. And, I’m not going to be able do it for them. It will be up to them to provide for themselves and their families. Have all of the lessons and lectures been effective? Will my example motivate them? Are their educations sufficient? Only time will tell.
Time Together is the Reward
All of the sacrifices I have made on behalf of my children pale in comparison to the time I have spent with them. They don’t remember all of the late nights and weekends I worked to buy a house and send them to private school. They don’t remember the expensive sports equipment and Christmas gifts. What they clearly remember are the camping trips we took together every year, with all of their aunts, uncles and cousins. They remember catching their first fish in the Sierras and watching hydro boat races on Mission Bay. They remember the hunting trips and riding dirt bikes in the desert. They remember all of the things we have done together, as a family.
One unique thing about our family is the generational bond. When I watch my oldest brother take his grandchildren to the desert, I realize there are four generations camping together, laughing, talking, riding and carrying on. There is no space or disconnect between the generations. Our children feel just as comfortable with our aunts and uncles as they do with their own. And, it’s because of the time we have spent together, over many years.
What the Future Holds
As I transition away from shaping my children’s future to creating one of our own, I am finding it easier to accept their choices and ability to govern their futures. Mistakes will be made; choices will be unwise and consequences will be dealt with. This is all part of life and learning for any young adult. After all, I didn’t raise my kids to be like me. I raised them to cover new ground and tackle new challenges. I’m certain I won’t be disappointed.
Another thing I’m quite certain about is my kids will be great parents. They both have a way with kids that is as natural as breathing. And, they connect with children in a way that brings immediate trust and affection. They were born with these qualities and our example has only reinforced them. I am looking forward to the next generation. I only hope it’s not too soon.
Happy Father’s Day to all of you Dads
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that you only get one shot at being a parent and it’s not something you want to screw up. It’s a job that comes with many pitfalls and few instructions. The secret ingredients are time and caring. Gratuitous praise and material comforts are optional.
“The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother”
John Wooden – The Wizard of Westwood
Anyone who enjoyed reading my Father’s Day post should definitely read Sandy’s post below about her Absentee Father and Kevin’s post on Nature Versus Nurture. You won’t be disappointed.