This past Father’s Day was the first, as far as I can remember, since my oldest children (twins) were born 27 years ago that I was away from all of my children. I am on a business trip that carried over the weekend, so I am away from my family. On one hand, it was weird and lonely. On the other hand, I got to do some fun things (hike in N. California redwoods and go to a beach) and all of my children called and we had nice chats.
I’d like to share some thoughts about fathers, from a variety of perspectives.
First, a few thoughts about my own dad who died 15 years ago this summer — he was 71 years old and I was 37. My dad, Roger White, was a very bright, largely self-educated man. When I reflect on some of the core character qualities that he had, I think of:
*Provider — he took his role of providing for our family seriously, and strove to do the best he could for his children and grandchildren;
*Life long learner — my dad was always learning- about engineering, mechanical design, sailing, construction, investments, how things worked;
*Problem-solver — a common dinnertime discussion topic was a recent problem he had observed and his thoughts about different ways the problem could potentially be solved, and he encouraged us to be observant of problems that needed to be solved in the world around us;
*Giver — dad was generous to those around him – to mom, to the kids (and our spouses) and grandkids, to friends and those in need that he saw;
*Hard worker — this was a “given”, if you were a member of our family (nuclear or extended) you were a hard worker;
*Focused — this was both an asset and a liability for dad, he could become focused on an issue, problem or topic and it was tough to get him off of it.
I am thankful for the legacy he left to me and my children through his modeling of these character qualities.
A second perspective comes from the fact that I conducted a family meeting this past weekend that included a multi-generational discussion on the dynamics of relationships between parents and their adult children. And there were some interesting points made and comments during the discussion.
One of the themes we discussed was the roles and responsibilities of parents (both mothers and fathers) when children are growing up. These include the responsibility to:
nurture, protect, encourage, model, teach, discipline, entertain, transport, facilitate personal development,
provide – food, clothing, shelter & other resources, make decisions, train in social skills, expose to the larger world.
When the young adults in the room saw this list growing, they spontaneously commented: “Whoa! That is a lot of responsibility. I’m not sure I want to be a parent!”
Additionally, as we worked through the different stages of parent / child relationships (childhood, adolescence, adult children), we talked about the tensions of transition in different stages. One thought shared was that parents of adult children often are confused about how much input or counsel to give their children (and their spouses). Many parents don’t want to be overly involved or intrusive, and can actually “back off” too much where they become disengaged from their children’s lives. Other parents (the one more commonly portrayed in the media) can be overly involved, give too much advice (and too strong of advice, not allowing for differing views) and essentially are experienced as being intrusive. [We discussed ways to manage this tension — which you were there!]
Another interesting (to me) point was that one of the main things parents of adult children desire from their children and other family members is — companionship. Sometimes we just like being together, hanging out, and being a part of our kids’ lives. Why? Revisit the list above of the responsibilities we carried for a number of years. We have invested a lot in our kids — time, energy, (and yes, money). And our kids have been a major part of our lives. Often, we like them and enjoy their company. Many young adults who are in their own life stage of finding their own identity and independence, forget about the situation from their parents’ point of view. So a hint to young adults and older “children” — a relatively low-cost gift to your folks is to choose to spend some time with them.
We need to look at fathers from one other perspective — from those who are either fatherless, or essentially fatherless — their fathers aren’t involved in their lives. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in our culture. The number of children who are raised in homes without a father present is astounding. Add the number of fathers who are in the home but really not present because of work or other activities, or who are not emotionally or relationally present — and the percentage is frightening. Why? Because fathers provide important messages to their children — that they are special and loved, that they are valuable and worth one’s time and energy, and that we believe in you. (Mothers obviously communicate these messages as well, but dad’s do it in a different way.)
So if you are a guy, when (not if, but when) you are around those whose father is not present, spend a little extra time with them. Give them some time and encouragement. Let them know they are neat. Share some wisdom with them, or teach them a skill. It could be a small gift that goes a long ways to impact a child’s life.
Yes, dad’s can be annoying. But we can be cool, too (sort of). If your dad is still around, let him know something you appreciate about him or what he did for you while you were growing up. It will warm his heart.