I have realized that many of the posts that I have written are instructional in nature and rarely offer much insight into my own parenting style or challenges. I thought that it might be helpful to begin a series in which I share more from the heart and less from the head. I’m not sure if this will appeal to everyone. However, for some, this may be more of an encouragement then my typical “do this” and “avoid that” approach. Regardless, as a Feeler on the MBTI, it is much easier for me to relate to my feelings than my thoughts, so I imagine that this post will come more naturally than others have in the past.
I thought a good place to start with the series would be to reflect on how my experience as a son has affected my own parenting style. In order to do so, I will need to share some background. I come from a family where my mother and father were both together. However, I often feared that they would separate. I remember the one time that my dad left the home for a weekend, I was pretty sure that he wasn’t coming back. My parents had both been abused when they were younger, and they had both joined the army to get away from the pain the world had caused them. Needless to say, my parents were not healthy. I didn’t see much of my dad growing up. One of the things that my father did pick up from his own childhood was a desire to work. He worked all the time. When he wasn’t working, he was sleeping or watching T.V. I do remember a few times throwing a ball with my dad, but those times were few and far between. My dad was an angry man, and he ruled by fear. Whether he was punishing me or playing with me, I often got hurt physically and emotionally. My father was not a good example of fatherhood to me (at least not at the beginning).
I remember my dad coaching a baseball team when I was in middle school. One of the boys caught me after our first practice and said, “You’re dad is pretty cool. Tell me about him.” I replied, “You know as much about him as I do, this is the most time I have spent with him in my life.” It wasn’t a completely true statement, but it did accurately reflect my relationship with my father. My father was the guy that any boy would be proud of. He was a police officer, joined the SWAT team, and even went undercover doing narcotics work. He was a man’s man. Sadly, I knew little of him, though I very much wanted to be just like him. It left me with a complicated challenge- I strived to be the likeness of a man that I did not truly know or understand. I was very different from my father. My dad is a tough man. I can count on one hand the amount of times that he has stayed home sick, cried in front of the family, or gave any indication of fear. I, on the other hand, am a man that brings calm and peace wherever I go. Growing up, I was often called “soft” and “sensitive,” two words I grew to despise. My dad was an untouchable deity to me. He knew all, saw all, ruled all. It wasn’t until I was in high school that we got to spend true quality time together. My dad would take me along on some home construction projects, where I would clean up the work space and do tasks that required little skill. I took in every moment like I was gasping for air. I yearned for relationship with my father. I could not get enough of our time together.
I share this with you because this is what I take with me as I grow to become a father myself. The pains and the joys I experienced are the tools that I use to craft my own way. Those memories are both my fuel and my demons. Each day, I choose how I want to respond to it all. I live with the hopes that I might encompass the best of my father as well as myself. I know that in the past I have shared how my youth pastor was key to filling in the gaps of where my father wasn’t present. He too, played a large part in teaching me what fatherhood was all about. Together, they were the men that set me on my path.
These days, I often find myself trying to be strong. I am a man of thin stature with a tender disposition. I am learning that I am at my best when I approach life with a gentle, open hand; yet, I also must be able to turn to steel when the occasion requires. One of my most discouraging points of shame is that I am not as hard-working or strong as my father. I have a health condition that will shut me down for days, often leaving me bed ridden. The best way I can describe it is like getting the flu every month for two or three days. It has been this way for about 6 years now. It kills me when the only interactions that I have with my children in a day are the few times that they come in to check on me. I think I would rather swallow a glass full of razor blades. To be honest, I am still trying to figure out how to make the most of this setback.
On the flipside, it brings me great joy to see my children grow up. My oldest, Aurora, is a spitting image of myself. She is ornery, wild, and always up for adventure. She is the girl who will play Nerf guns with me, read comics together, and she helps me out with projects. My second oldest daughter, Nadia, is a princess through-and-through. I don’t even think she own a pair of jeans. She is such a “dress girl” that she will actually wear dresses over her dresses so that she can fully accessorize. Having a soft touch with her is crucial. My third, Josephine, is still figuring out her way of life. She is more like her oldest sister, but she has some of the sweet, tenderness of Nadia as well. I try my hardest to allow my children to be who they are. I don’t let them get away with things or cause harm to themselves or others, but I don’t try to change the part of them that make them unique. Instead, I try to connect to each one of them a little differently. Most importantly, I am trying to learn to engage with my children often. When I find myself getting caught up in my own life too much, I try to re-engage. It’s a constant struggle, but I am growing. I’m not a perfect parent. In fact, I often find myself teetering between over-confidence as a parent and the feeling that I can’t seem to do anything right. I imagine this is a feeling that many fathers have.
I hope that for some of my readers, this series might be of great benefit. It is my desire to be vulnerable enough that elements of my own experience might hit home for you. We all have our own family to lead, but we are better fathers when we strengthen each other. May this post, as well as others I have written, give you strength this week.