My children deserve a better father than the one I had. The son does not have to repeat the mistakes of the father. It’s a choice you make. Emulate the one who let you down or be the better man.
Ever since I was a little boy, people would say “you’re just like your father.” In many ways that’s true. I look almost exactly like the man. In fact, my own wife, who has never met him, recently saw a picture of him around the same age as I am now and just assumed it was me. She was shocked to learn the photo was from the mid-Eighties; same face; same facial scruff; same body type. For all intents and purposes, I am a clone. My father and I share the same mannerisms, the same dry wit and sarcastic sense of humor, and a similar stubborn streak. But we are not the same. In some ways we are drastically different.
Truth is, I always hated people telling me that I’m just like my dad. For all that we share in common there are many things about me that are markedly different. He’s right handed. I do almost everything with my left. He has green eyes. Mine are brown. He was never able to put his children’s needs before his own—and the may be the fundamental difference between us right there. I have a feeling that a lot of today’s new dads are different from their own fathers in this way. It seems many of us weren’t so fortunate to model ourselves after the good that our dads did; we learned more from the bad.
I guess some men were just brought up to mistakenly believe that children are there to do for their fathers and not the other way around. Not that I don’t believe in reciprocal relationships, I do, but I certainly don’t believe in one-sided ones. My dad never understood the true spirit of selflessness. He never understood that children are to be molded, modeled on positive actions, and not manipulated. And he most certainly never understood that you don’t poison your children’s minds for your own gain. And in the end that was his loss as much as it is my own. But that’s not to say he didn’t teach me a lot.
The most important thing my father ever taught me was inadvertent—he taught me not to be like him. And as much as we share much of the same DNA, we don’t share the same views on parenting. Now, I don’t resent being told that I’m just like my dad—the man had a few good qualities. He did love me, in his own unique way. Unfortunately, his biggest character flaw was the one that leaves the most lasting impression.
For me, my children come first. Their well-being, their emotional health and their immediate needs are my primary concern. I don’t just leave them to someone else. And I don’t blame other people for my inability to choose their needs before my own. I’m their father in name and in deed. I don’t just pull out the title when it suits me. I live it. I breathe it. I embrace it—with each and every dirty diaper I change, bottle I feed, bedtime story I read, bath, and meal that I make. I won’t show up to their sporting events or dance recitals once a year and act like I’ve been to every single one—I’ll be at EVERY SINGLE ONE. I won’t ask about their report cards and get all indignant when they don’t get all A’s—I’ll be the one helping them to understand the material and do their very best. I won’t spend all my time with them complaining about the world. I’ll be the one enjoying the people who ARE my world.
My father and I share many qualities, but we are not the same. And when it comes to fatherhood, I can tell you, without a doubt, that there is no comparison between the two of us. Some men learn how to be dads from the greatest of examples. Others learn from the worst. Me, I learned that I didn’t want to be my father, and even if you are a clone, you can certainly be an improvement on the original.
This post originally appeared at Fodder 4 Fathers