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Being Worthy of Fatherhood

“One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.” Unattributed.

One blog on fatherhood is too much, and a library is not enough.

I state feely with no false pride that I was a better provider than father. I learned how to be a father through my many failures, and the importance of being a dad through my children’s trials. I avoided the angst of stress by observing my life and staying in the moment, not straying too far ahead in my vision of ambition and what the future would bring. Plans were fine, yet staying in the moment was a necessity.

If I took care of my family the best I could, everything else would be secondary. Faith in God was crucial; and their security was paramount. Being worthy means being ready always, to defend, deflect, advise, support, coach and counsel and a thousand other elements of fatherhood a discerning reader or listener could express better than me. None of it was planned.

At the risk of being preachy, I can boil down the essence of being worthy of fatherhood to three elements, consistently applied.

1) Love their Mother, First.

There has never been a serious wedge between my wife and me. I did (and do!) love my kids’ mother, my bride, long before they arrived. It’s not just the biology of it. Maureen has given me a lifetime of reasons to live a life of purpose, and she has given our kids life itself. This will never be reciprocal or equal. I know, and our children know, that Maureen will always love them, first, and I will always love their mother first. That is the way it should be.

I state with confidence (that I won’t be struck dead by lightening now) that I never raised my voice in anger to my wife. You can bet our children noticed.

2) Set a Good Example.

Until the children reached majority, they never witnessed me having more than one drink on any occasion, if at all. I just did not drink. My friends know I like adult beverages, and they also know that I was dry for 28 years. We men easily say that we would kill or die for our children, but are we willing to give up the simplest of things? Not drinking then as a hands on father was easy.

Quitting smoking was excruciating, and our oldest was eleven and our youngest was four when I finally accomplished that feat. I put on thirty pounds in a nano-second, but the alternative (considering family history) was death, or my passive approval for them to indulge in their own slow death.

I worked hard, like any dad. Early to rise, early to bed. I exercised in bursts (my boys call it in small bubbles) and all our kids were jocks. I exceled at taking out splinters. Everything else I was quite average.

I have constructive pursuits. I read a great deal, have published a couple books, and throw my blogs out to the masses. Now I use Anchor, too. I like sports but I don’t get too passionate about specific teams, except the Yankees. My wife and I give away to all kinds of causes, in both time and treasure. We enjoy community and veteran service projects separately and together, and although at first our kids were dragged to these endeavors, they have adopted many as their own.

With the exception of some close “check swings” my girls never heard an F-bomb from me growing up, and when the boys were old enough they knew I wasn’t throwing it around for shock or show. If you set a high standard, you can ask for a high standard.

It’s much too easy as I get older to lose some moral authority with my adult children (ever see an R rated movie with yours?) but during the formative years the kids knew where their dad stood on damn near everything. I was not their friend. I am their father.

Now that we are grandparents the standards have gotten loose. I love it.

The third element of being worthy of fatherhood…

3) Point the Way.

I laugh now at the helicopter parent, though I was more often guilty than not. I brag with my generation of riding bikes without helmets (or hands!) or swimming in natural places, au naturel. But in fairness to the times, life is more complicated now, quicker paced and difficult to detect with normal observation. The interconnectedness and speed of smartphones and the internet were embryonic when I was raising my kids.

Yet some things will not change and getting older does make one wiser. We cannot lead our children’s lives, but we sure as heck can’t let them run with knives, actual or metaphorical.

All we can do is point the way, and we should take due care in making certain that the path we point to is well-trod and clear of danger. Throwing up our hands when kids screw up is not parenting. Asking questions, explaining consequences, real follow-up in action, being discerning and discriminating with activities and making subtle observations without judgment will go a long way.

There was plenty of screaming from them, sure. I told my kids (smiling inwardly) that I already knew the answer to my question of him or her, so just cut the crap and tell me the facts. I think they bought it, then, because there were few major hiccups, but I do know now that on a couple notable occasions they got away with their respective caper. We all did. We’ve all been there… some of them were doozies. Oh, but for the Grace of God.

I did tell my children that they could make their own decisions, as long as they made the right ones. Remember the college application process? We ask teenagers to make life-altering career direction decisions the same month they still require permission, and a note, to use the restroom at school. There are a few other distractions in high school, too, if I recall correctly, and sometimes pointing the way requires holding hands. Real tight. The hardest part, for any father, is knowing when to lay off, ease up, or say nothing.

Pointing the way comes down to this – don’t make the same mistakes I made.

Our children are adults now, with families of their own. They are all ambitious, independent and successful. I think they’re happy. More than anything else I hope and pray they know their father’s love is now, and always has been, unconditional. As is Mom’s.

The greatest privilege of my life has been to lead Marines for a few short years. The greatest honor of my life continues to be being a dad.

I’m not sure there’s much of a difference.

But for real happiness, pure joy and silliness, being a grandfather is awesome!

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