I guess this is not your typical fathers day blog offering. Sometimes the hardest thing is to be honest with one’s self… My fathers were good, if flawed, human beings, but they gave much.
Happy Father’s Day, everybody…
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What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?
— Antonio Machado
I had two fathers and possibly more. I had uncles, older cousins, as well as elders from the community who were to me as fathers in some respects. But the two that were most influential was my biological father, Edwin, and my stepfather, Vincent. The two men were polar opposites.
My father was almost all yang: penetrating intelligence, extroverted, creative, charismatic — he was everything a little boy wanted as a father. I adored him — worshipped the very ground he walked and I wanted to be just like him. My father passed on to me the gift of the thirst for knowledge and I could never repay him for that. My father’s example taught me that there was a higher purpose in life and he taught me love for knowledge, beauty, and truth.
My stepfather, Vincent, was almost all yin: he was easy-going, definitely not cerebral, loved doing things with his hands, and loved music. As a child, he would take me to his various jobs and brag to his friends and co-workers that I was a genius. Then he would say something like, “Go ahead, ask him anything,” and his co-workers would and I would almost always get the answer right. He used to get a big kick out of that. Vincent, instead of resenting my intelligence, supported it. Any other man would’ve felt insecure, but not Vincent, because he was easy going almost to a fault. Not that he was a pushover, he wasn’t, he had the hands of a carpenter, large and rough, and I saw him knock out a man much bigger than him with one punch. He was simply less confrontational than my father. Vincent’s example taught me dependability, consistency, or “showing up” as might have put it.
These days it’s popular for talking heads and politicians of all stripes to go on at length about fathers and fatherhood. On one side, there’s the myopic notion that almost all social ills can be placed firmly on the shoulders of fathers — or “absent” fathers. Of course, this is just a form of scapegoating. Sure, fathers are important in the development of young minds, but a father being more “present” doesn’t automatically translate to a better, more just society.
I once created a leadership development workshop that utilized relationship-building skills. My assumption then and still, was that the essence of leadership is about the ability to connect to people, not forcefully leading them by the nose. Whenever I would ask workshop participants to list what they perceived as leadership qualities, nurturing — the core skill for relationship — was almost never mentioned. When our culture emphasizes bread-winning and individual success for men at the expense of care-giving, the welfare of children suffers. A father’s absence influences the son and daughter’s development of social skills, self-esteem, and attitudes towards achievement. But more importantly, our culturally warped understanding of masculinity contributes to various forms of maladjustment, such as lack of impulse control, violence, incompetence, dependence, and irresponsibility. The son of a psychologically absent father experiences a weakened identification with what it means to be a man, and the daughter experiences a weakened relationship to the masculine principle.
Yet, in the name of family financial and psychological welfare, our legal system emphasizes the importance of the father’s job (or ability to earn), and therefore his absence, and award child custody to the mother nine times out of ten. When societal attitudes are unsupportive of the father’s active involvement in the family, then we see the fragmentation of family relationships so common today.
Don’t misunderstand my point: I am not advocating for some vague notion of “men’s rights.” I am saying that we — all of us — need to redefine what it means to be a man.
In the end, we are all flawed creatures. We all make mistakes. As for me, I would say that if you were to ask my son, he would give at best a mixed review. More likely, I don’t think he would characterize me as a “good” father. And he has good reasons for his view. In the final analysis, I too am seriously flawed human being. I guess what is important is not to get too stuck in who’s “wrong” and who’s “right,” but to do the right thing at the right time because it is the right thing to do at that moment.
And yet my own experience leaves with the feeling that a good father, however that is defined, requires more than getting the task done right. Perhaps fatherhood is more about being genuine and revealing ones vulnerability to those you love. When I reflect on the relationships between fathers, sons, and daughters, I am reminded of the words of the poet Rumi: “Out beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” My son, if he chooses, will one day be a father and if he can take even a little of what my own teachers gave me, then he will be a man.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…