I love dads. I love seeing a man attending to his children in the park. I love dad humor with all its annoying, painfully corny, groaners. I think dads are vital to a child’s development, and lucky for me, the science backs me up on this.
Study after study replicates the findings that active and engaged fathers are a huge benefit to a child’s language development, socialization, and future mental health. Plus there’s the impact on future relationships that having a solid father figure has in how boys are acculturated and in how girls view themselves and what they tolerate in future relationships.
The men’s group I’m a part of has a saying, “men teach men to be men”. And it’s been my experience that this is true. I came to the group a very broken, angry at my father, hurt, frustrated man. My parents had a nasty, alcoholic, abusive relationship at the end of their marriage, and there was a lot of emotional and physical abuse by each of them to the other, with me as collateral damage.
My father left the home, as most men do, and I was left with my mother. She was damaged by all this abuse, and I heard too much about her experiences and it colored my view of my father. I learned to be very angry with him as a result of her hurt. I was convinced that he was the source of all our troubles, and to be clear, his disease definitely impacted our family. But so did hers.
It wasn’t until my early 30s when I joined my men’s group that I took an honest look at what was happening in that household and could begin to unpack that my father had his role in the drama and that his disease caused a big part of the damage. I was able to look at what my father did and what he taught me and put it in proper perspective. I let go of the hurt and the anger and was able to see that the gifts my father gave me, none of which were material, have made my life so much more fulfilling.
When I was able to forgive him for his sins, I found the peace and serenity that I needed to truly benefit from the gifts he gave me. I remember a man who was funny, charming, and smart. Was he more Willie Loman than Ward Cleaver? Yes. But he was also a WWII vet. He was a man who was caught in the throes of his alcoholism and had a wife who was in throes of her alcoholism. They both were trapped with the expectations and roles of their generation and I don’t think either of them found comfort in the molds they were cast from.
Today’s fathers and mothers have a rapidly evolving set of expectations and roles they are to fulfill. Men are asking for more time to parent their children (NO it’s not called babysitting – it’s called parenting when a dad has the kids on the weekend.) Sometimes the courts even allow the fathers to primary parent these days, and the mom doesn’t even have to be a bi-polar, crack-addled, schizophrenic before dad can get custody. But it’s not easy for dads to get custody still.
Just look at the clash of titans that occurred in the Los Angeles Superior Courts between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. It was an epic legal battle involving the best lawyers in the city, literally MILLIONS of dollars was spent by them jointly between lawyers, private investigators, child custody evaluators, supervised visitation monitors and likely a bevy of nannies, mannies and support staff.
And what was the result? Equal shared parenting. Turns out Brad’s a good dad and Angelina clearly has some dad issues besides Mr. Pitt, her relationship with her father is volatile. The court though saw through the arguments against Mr. Pitt and just in time for this coming Father’s Day gave him an eminently fair role as the father he wants to be.
This Sunday is Father’s Day. It’s easy to see the ‘doofus dads’ on TV and think that dads are just there for child support and to change light bulbs, but they have a lifetime impact on their children and they deserve to be respected and honored this coming Sunday.
Happy Father’s Day to all the men who are standing up and being a part of their kids’ lives.