April 13, 2019

Chapter 09 - Responsible Fathers

Responsible Fathers

A father’s responsibility is a difficult subject in today's politically correct world. It requires us to discuss a topic that is exclusive to the male role in the family. Being a good parent is something that a man or woman is equally capable of. But being a good parent and being a good father are very different roles. A man can be good at one and not the other. Fathers are much different than Mothers and not just in the shower.

The characteristics of a father are an instinctual part of the male animal. Fathers are essential to the basic human family. They are every bit as important when it comes to raising a family as a mother. A father's bond with his children is as great and strong and every bit the equal of a mother's. They just don't smell as good and can hurt your face when they hug so they don't do that stuff as often as mothers.

A man doesn't have to be a father, but a Father has to be a man. Any man can father a child, but fathering a child does not make a man a father. It's your child that bestows that special distinction on you. You officially become a Father the day your child first says "Dada".

As a boy I can recall many popular, media based images of a "Father". There was an image, accurate or not, of what a "typical Father" looked like in those days. In books, magazines and mostly on the TV screen, fathers were portrayed in pretty much the same way. "Father Knows Best,” "Leave it to Beaver" or the "Donna Reed Show" were the fantasy family units my parent's generation believed in then.

"My Three Sons" or "The Andy Griffith Show,” featuring single parent families with a father as the sole provider were the most radical TV family units of that generation. For many kids back then, much as it still is for today's kids, the image of a father figure was based on characters on the popular sitcoms of the day.

These TV shows in no way, shape or form resembled my real family.

My father had 15 children... deliberately! To me, that would be a good example of someone who has hit the heights of irresponsibility. If one of the "responsibilities" of being a Father is actually being "responsible", my dad was missing an important skill on his "Father" resume. He was good at a lot of things a father should be good at... birth control was not one of them. Suffering from a common genetic shortcoming in the male animal, he depended on my mother and her skillful application of the Rhythm Method to control production. Not a good plan based on the final tally.

My father was nothing like the fathers I saw on TV. But then, I was never as good a kid as, Beaver or Wally either. We were always behind on bills; we got assistance with food and fuel. But I always got new clothes at the start of the school year and there was always a tree with gifts under it on Christmas. My father always worked at least 2 jobs at any given time. It wasn't like my father didn't work enough hours. He just never made enough money doing the jobs he could.

He did a good enough job providing that I didn't realize we were poor until a late age. I never questioned why pasta was the main ingredient for all the dishes cooked in my house. Everyone seemed to like it. I was never so hungry that I felt I needed to eat mashed potatoes just because they were there. Of course, my father always made me eat them anyway.

My father never gave me any memorable hugs. He wasn't the kind to encourage lap sitting or giving piggy-back rides. He was not a touchy-feely kind of guy. Unless the touch I felt was a sharp smack to my butt or head. I can't honestly say he ever told me he loved me... it was just always something I knew and understood. Like all boys, I wanted to please my father and be the kind of son he would be proud of. Having nine brothers made standing out as a man among men considerably more difficult. With the crowd I had to compete with, I was happy that he recognized me, let alone was proud of me.

My father wasn't the kind to spend the afternoon tossing a baseball. He did things with all of us or none of us. Spending quiet time with my father would mean hanging out in his bathroom with him. It was the only place that my father was ever alone. Instinct told me my company would have been less than welcome. I didn't love my father enough to want to see him on the toilet either.

But there were times when you knew you had his attention and I learned to take advantage of those opportunities. He didn't engage in regular conversation with his kids if he could avoid it, but there were ways to get my dad to talk. Ask him a good question, pique his interest and he would give you a seriously long and well considered answer. My father seemed to know everything. If he didn't have an answer he would say simply, "I'm not sure", or "I don't know! Let me think about it."

Sometime later he would stop and tell me the answer to a question long after I had forgot I asked it. When I commented on how cool it was to know the answers, he taught me that knowing the answer to a question wasn't as important as knowing how to find the answer when you don't.

"So many people are afraid to admit they don't know the answer because they don't want to look stupid,” he explained. "Realizing that you don't know something is the first step in learning". He loved learning and he passed that skill on to me.

We shared a love of reading and music. Mostly, as a family, we just shared. He was a great father. He was an interesting man. I knew him as a father. Unfortunately, he died before I got to know him as a friend. I know we would have been the best of friends had there been time.

The family image I knew back then has been obliterated over time. A very short, abrupt and intense time of social transition that has made it hard to identify the "typical father" of today. Are the responsibilities faced by the "Father figure" of today even remotely the same as when I was a boy? I can't say. The plethora of images that represent a "Father" in today's media is wide and varied.

The makeup of the average family unit is incredibly convoluted. The members of a family in today's world have no "typical" composition. What the average "father figure" is for children today is impossible for me to determine. The increase of single, divorced and blended families has had a powerful impact on further blurring the image. But, when a child runs to the door shouting, "Daddy's home!," I believe it still feels the same for each of them.

When viewed through the eyes of a child, a father’s role today hasn't changed much... despite the changes in our society. By their nature, the roles of a Mother and Father remain the same for a child. A Mother nurtures and cares while a Father provides and protects. His role doesn't change with the number of children. The responsibilities of a father are the same in principle whether there is one child or 15. They don't change with time.

A father teaches his daughter through his character how to know a good man. A father teaches his son by his example how to be a good man. A mother holds her children in her arms... a father's arms hold the entire family.

A father's greatest responsibility is to care for his family. The day to day responsibilities of caring for his family are different for each father. No matter how hard my father’s responsibilities were when it came to caring and providing for my family, somehow, he met them. He couldn't have done any better because he always did his absolute best. He couldn't give us all we wanted, but he provided all we needed. No matter how tough things got, he never got discouraged and he never stopped working.

He spent his life being a father. He understood that his wife, his children and all that came with them; their health and welfare, were his responsibility. He never failed in his determination to meet them. He never owned a house of his own. We lived in different places, but wherever my father lived was our home. He did whatever he needed to do. He did everything he could do when it came to raising his family.

He worked his whole life. He decided. He disciplined. He fought. He forgave. He tried. He tired. He failed. He tried again. He laughed. He cried. He made mistakes. He said he was sorry.

At various times in my life he was a postman, a cab driver, a painter and a musician. But he was always a Father.

He was always My Father. He didn't quit. He didn't leave. He stayed. He was always there. He was responsible.

In the end, I not certain just what a fathers responsibilities are…

...but he met them

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