My own father was a quiet man. He owned a small business in a small town. He rose early every morning to open his liquor store in time to catch the first customers on the small main street that was the center of town. This was in the era before the mall took over the retail world and owning a store was the ticket to middle class stability. He'd get home about 8 or 9 at night, watch TV until 11 o'clock and go to sleep. About the only time I saw him was when I'd walk over to the "store." He'd give me a dime out of the cash register for some candy or hand me a Royal Crown cola from the icebox in the back of the store. He rarely spoke and he rarely did anything but work.
My father was a product of his time and a model of stability. He lived his entire life in the same small town. He bought a stable, low risk business on Main Street and he maintained a routine that almost never changed. The house and everything in it, including the children, was my mother's domain. He paid for it, but it was almost as if he didn't live in it.
As I make my way through the parenting mine field of the millenium era, my role as a father is completely different from my own Dad's. And yet at its most basic level it is the same.
Me, I'm a different kind person and a different kind of Dad. I don't have a store, I have a profession. And in my profession I have a lot of flexibility. I work at home about half the time so when the kids come home I'm likely to be the one who greets them at the door, asks them how their day went and gives them something to eat. My wife works the kind of hours my father used to work. She leaves early in the morning and arrives home after dark. So it's usually up to me to get the kids ready for school in the morning and to put them to bed at night.
I like being active in my children's lives and frankly, I'm pretty good at it. It's true my wife makes better meals than I do, my forte is sandwiches for supper and she prefers a sit down dinner and a balanced meal. I admire her for that but I don't have what it takes to produce it. I think it's a role model thing. I never saw my father cook a meal. So my nurturing has its limits. The amount of structure I can provide is not what my wife would provide if she were home.
And yet, my father gave me something else. Those ten-cent coins and the sodas he gave me were acts of love. Even as a child I knew, perhaps subconsciously, that the reason my Dad was away from home so much was because he was totally committed to providing for his family. This was modeling he did provide.
As I make my way through the parenting mine field of the millenium era, my role as a father is completely different from my own Dad's. And yet at its most basic level it is the same. What I learned from my father, without him ever saying a word about it, is how to place my family's welfare above my own personal fulfillment. My father and I both dedicate ourselves to doing whatever is in our power to create the conditions necessary for our family to thrive.
I rejected a lot of the ways my father lived. I don't stay still. I take risks. My wife and I keep moving and changing jobs. I make sure to talk to my kids a lot-to play, to do things. And sometimes I feel angry that my dad wasn't available more.
But the most important lesson I learned about fathering I learned from him--fatherhood is an act of dedication.