I haven’t been the best of dads, but I’ve done my best.
There were probably millions of guys thinking that as Father’s Day approached. Being a dad is one of those things you can never do well enough. Not that you haven’t tried to be the best damn father a kid could ever hope for, but the outcome is so important, and the job’s never finished, really, is it?
No, but the day does arrive when we do let go, when we realize it’s time to step back and become commentators on our children’s destinies rather than managers. For many that day’s well and truly here when we find ourselves penning the first Father’s or Mother’s Day card to our own kids.
It’s a poignant moment, that, and like just about every other right of passage en route to complete fatherhood it’s humbling, confusing and riddled with doubts. It’s a continuation really of the inevitable contradictions that are part of the balancing act called fatherhood.
Take love and anger, for instance. They’re sides of the same coin. When people I love do things that damage their own prospects, I get angry. It’s that simple… well, not quite. There’s a fine line between caring for another’s well-being, and imposing my own views; that line becomes especially fine within families. A wise father learns to let his kids map their own destinies and make their own mistakes – to just be there for them when they take a fall.
On the obligations of parenting. Fatherhood’s a celebration, of course, but it’s an obligation too. When a friendship goes off, I can make my excuses and walk away; if I’m not liking what my kids are doing, I have to remember it’s what they’re doing I don’t like. I still love them. Our kids have to challenge us – some more than others – it’s part of growing up and breaking free. As a father I sometimes have to be the one who holds things together.
Then there’s the notion of sacrifice. Making sacrifices for the sake of our kids is natural; giving up our own hopes and dreams isn’t. When parents live through their kids, they place an onerous burden on them. At what point do we cross the line from being supportive to being obsessed? Does my kid really want to be a hockey player; a ballerina, a concert pianist, or am I pushing them to live my dream?
Father’s Day recognizes the balancing acts parents have to go through every day. It’s clichéd to point out that kids don’t come with manuals. Yes, there are parenting courses, handbooks and support services, but when it comes to it, each child is unique and every father has to learn the most important job in his life on the job.
At the end of the day there are no bragging rights to being a dad: all we can say is ‘I did my best.’ I scolded when it was necessary; supported as often as I could; got out of the way when I had to; loved always. I hope they’ll do the same with their kids.
That, I think is the best advice a grandfather can pass on to his son in that first Father’s Day card he sends down the line. That and a big ‘Thank You’ for the best Father’s Day gift a grandfather could ever hope for.