Dylan Stewart Columnist
A fathers role…
I was shaped by my father, and as a father I have shaped both of my children. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
But times are changing, and between the “me too” movement and the men’s movement, men are changing. Unfortunately, most men are changing in a way that doesn’t really support or help our children. Either they are changing into bitter men, who are aggressive, abusive, angry, and more often than not numbed out by some intoxication (be it sex, sugar, technology, alcohol or drugs) – or otherwise they are going too far in the other direction, becoming doormats, doing whatever it takes to avoid conflict… or to prevent people (especially women) from getting upset at them. They are showing the world they can’t stand up for anything… least of all themselves.
And yet isn’t that part of a man’s role? Part of a father’s role? To show his children (by example) how to stand up for themselves? While a mother may coddle and nurture, a father is there to challenge and protect. We show our love in a very different way. Sometimes even an unconscious way.
It is one of our roles as a father to make sure that when reality comes knocking on our children’s door, they know what to do, they know how to answer the door, they know what to do when life unfairly kicks the wind out of them.
Life is not easy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something or lying to you. Not only is life not easy, but if you want to make it in this life – as your own person, whether you’re a man or a woman – you have to be prepared. You have to have the right tools, and above and beyond all else you must know how to get knocked down … and get back up.
Every father teaches these lessons differently. Some do it by coaching Little League which allows them to be right there helping their child practice, prepare and strengthen. They coach their children hoping that they will win every game, but knowing that they will inevitably lose somewhere along the line, and need to be picked back up again.
This is a great way to show your children how to brush themselves up and get back out on the field, but depending on who else you have on your Little League team, it may be an inaccurate way to do it. A stronger team will win more often; a weaker team will lose more often. It’s not really up to the coach or even the individual players. And in life, although you want to have your team around you, and your support system around you, sometimes you just have to fully own it yourself. And as a Dad, you need to make sure your children know that and can trust themselves to do what needs to be done.
Some fathers are masochistic jerks. They beat and demean their children at every turn. They make sure their children know nothing about the good in life. They make sure their kids believe they have to fight for every scrap, for every morsel. For some men, this is how they grew up. It’s how they became strong and survived. And it’s all they know.
It is a one-sided way to look at the hard things in life … and it is unfortunate … but it happens. However, some very good men have been created by some very bad fathers. Being raised by a father who was overly critical, and overly abusive forced them to do the opposite. It forced them to learn compassion and empathy, and forced them to swear to never lift a hand to their own children.
My father was a man like that, beaten by his dad. He swore to never raise his hands to my brother, my sister and me. And he never did. In some ways, I think he went too far to the other side of the pendulum. Getting my ass whooped once in awhile might’ve helped. Being told “NO” more often wouldn’t have been the worst thing for me. But he chose not to, and it made me soft in some ways. This forced the world do the butt kicking for me instead. And let me tell you, the world is not gentle with the way it kicks your butt. It thinks nothing of throwing you down a flight of stairs just to make a point.
Some parents teach the harshness of the world by their own absence. Nobody was there for them, so they won’t be there for anyone. This is another hard way to do it. It harms the children much more than necessary and it hurts more than it helps. But it’s just another method. Just another way.
At this point in my life, I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m trying to determine the line between saying “yes” to everything and “no” to everything. I am a nice guy too often, and as a result I get taken advantage of and struggle to accomplish the really big goals in my life. But I learn. I progress. You see, my resiliency was taught to me by my father. Never give up, keep coming back even when the odds are hopelessly against you. Because if you keep getting up, eventually you will get it right.
It’s not like there is some perfect recipe, perfect answer, or ideal way to be as a father. But regardless, it is our jobs to make sure our children know about boundaries and how to protect them. How to stand up for themselves. Our children need to know how to say “no,” and also how to say “yes.” And when to say “yes.”
As times continue to grow dark and change, we can expect the two extremes of men to fall away. The overly feminized, sensitive guy will be overruled by his wife, passed up for promotions by his boss, and fall into dejected depression. In many cases he will become the angry, checked-out, aggressive and abusive man. And he will disappear, either figuratively, hiding out and falling into pornography, technology and excuses, or literally when his actions get the better of him, and put him into a brawl with someone bigger than he, landing him in prison, or dead.
So it’s important that we as men find a middle ground. Learn how to be sensitive without being weak. Learn how to be strong without being abusive. Learn how to create boundaries without imprisoning our children. Learn how to teach about failures, without showing our children our own example of failure, or putting them in a situation where there is no chance for success.
It’s a thin line. A delicate line.
But it is now, and has always been, our job to show our children what it looks like. How to be strong. How to succeed. How to get back up when you’ve been knocked down. How to strive for something bigger than you. How to do what needs to be done without complaint. How to shoulder the load. And how to do it all with a smile on your face knowing that what you teach your children, and the kind of parents they become, is your true test.
It will be your true legacy as a father and as a man.