So, let's start off where your first father and son relationship began. What was your relationship like with your father or father-figure?
I was born in 1963 in northwestern Illinois and was adopted at birth by a childless couple in their thirties. The Word of God tells us to honor our mother and our father, so it only seems right to acknowledge the things that were positive about the home where I grew up. It wasn't all bad.
My parents were ambitious, "go-getters". Having grown up during the Great Depression, they seemed to have a phobia of poverty and a real preoccupation with bringing in money. My dad worked hard as a union plumber on construction sites, my mom ran a beauty shop, and on top of this, they had a full-service restaurant. This, of course, left very little time for family life, but materially speaking, it meant that I got to grow up with all the trappings of middle-class success. My parents had a nice house, drove a new car, had central air inside and a patio/swimming pool outside. There was shag carpeting on the floor, a finished basement downstairs, and an attached garage with a cement floor. I had plenty to eat, good medical care, and nice clothes to wear, and for that, I'm thankful.
I'm also grateful that drugs and alcohol were largely non-issues in my environment. I seldom ever saw my dad drunk, and there was no drug abuse at all. They were clean, decent, respectable people who had worked hard and had "made it", as far as material things went. There were cleaning ladies who kept the house practically immaculate, and I had a lot of nice things.
With regard to physical violence, yeah, I got my butt spanked...sometimes hard. I got my face slapped, and it was often out of anger--and as far as I'm concerned, it often DID "cross the line" (particularly the backhanding/slapping). But when I think about kids who had it so much worse: kids who got severe beatings, who were injured by their parents, or who have been starved, or neglected by their parents, and I realize that I have little to complain about in this regard. In retrospect, it really wasn't all that bad, physically speaking. So what was my problem?
My parents couldn't cope with frustration, particularly if I was the one frustrating them. It seems that there was so much anger in my home, and I was often the target of my parents' irritation. I was clumsy, made messes, and didn't like to do my chores. I didn't write neatly enough, got dirty too easily, and talked too much. I touched everything in the store and didn't put things away in my messy room. All the belittling, harsh criticism, yelling, cussing, and raging that they directed at me had me thinking that I really was some kind of a goof-up. I had to become an adult and get around kids myself before I ever realized that I was actually a completely normal boy. Imperfect, yes---but normal. The main problem was, I just didn't fit their mold, and I think they resented me for that.
I actually don't think my dad really wanted a boy to raise. I was apparently too big of a problem. There was a complete breakdown in any kind of a relationship between the two of us. We simply didn't bond. He was possessed of a wicked, volatile temper and would easily fly off the handle and go into a rage. He would cuss, yell, call names---I often remember getting spanked out of anger or suddenly slapped and having no idea what I had done wrong. I could relate many incidents that I remember, but I can sum it up in one sentence: he was mean---plain and simple--and I was stuck. I was at his mercy, and I hated him.
I craved a normal, secure home life. I actually craved fathering, though I didn't know it at the time. Sometimes I still feel like that insecure little boy inside...the one who wanted his dad's approval...the one who really wanted his dad to care. I can think of some more tender moments when my dad DID seem more like that--particularly after my mother died shortly before my 14th birthday. I've already stated that it wasn't ALL bad, and there were times when I know he tried...but if there's one thing I could ask him (and I can't..he's gone now), I'd ask him what happened that he couldn't love me when I was that little boy in grade school...the one who really needed a Daddy.
Todd, thanks for sharing your story. Really appreciated it.
I was born to teenage parents who were obviously not ready to be parents. They married young because in the 70’s, that was “the right thing to do.” There have been many times when I felt my father resented me for being born because it made him grow up early and prevented him from going out to have the kind of fun a lot of his friends enjoyed.
He was always so angry while I was growing up and I always felt like he thought I was an idiot. Also, he had an abusive temper. There were many times he got pissed at me, tackled, me, and just kept hitting me until he started to calm down. This behavior pattern didn’t stop until my mid to late teens when I was old enough to grab the belt as he swung it at me. I’ll never forget the look of shock on his face the first time I refused to let him hit me. And that’s when the arguments began.
We began screaming and yelling at each other all the time. It got to the point that I looked forward to the arguments because they would always be followed with 3 – 4 days of silent treatment, which I regarded as quite peaceful. All of this continued until I moved out of his house to get married.
We never discussed anything seriously except to complain about work, the government, and family. With matters of maturing and sexuality, they always became a big joke, to the point I would never go to him with any questions, fearful he would make light of them either at home or at family parties to entertain others at my expense. This is a fear I carry to this day because once you learn you cannot trust somebody, it’s hard to recover.
Now we get along, as in we are civil towards one another during visits and at family get-togethers. I think we would both like a better relationship, but it’s probably going to take a long time to undo a lot of damage and repair what has happened in the past. We’re working on it… slowly.
My greatest hope is to have an awesome father/son relationship with the boy my wife and I are expecting this coming February. I cannot express, and probably don’t have to with this group, the anticipation I have for bonding with him. My greatest fear, however, is that too much of the way my father used to be rubbed off on me and my son will grow up to resent me, refusing to bond with me as he grows older.
I get that my dad's actions were not out of hate, but moreso out of fear and being unequipped to deal with all the responsibility he brought on himself so young. i get it... but it's hard to wrestle with 20+ years of feeling that way.
the relationship with my dad as a kid was good.... not great, but good. i don't believe he ever really embraced the role of "dad", especially as i was younger. my mom has the dominate personality, so she happily filled in the role that he left open. a common response to any inquiry or request i had for him: "i dunno, go ask your mother." and as a kid, i was very quiet, shy, introverted, a loner. i was always quite content to play by myself. over a wide range of age, i could spend HOURS building stuff with legos, alone. since i was content being alone, they were content to leave me alone. and in hindsight, i think they took this a little too far. social maturity for me was very delayed.
from around age 10 and on, my mom's parent's lived with us. and prior to that time, i saw my maternal grandparents alot. my Granddad was like a second dad to me in many ways. he was very reserved and stoic, but not cold.
so one advantage i did have as a boy was that both my Dad and Granddad were very crafty and creative. if something broke in our house, we NEVER called a repairman nor replaced the item; we could afford it but why waste the money? it was fixed, and often improved. my Dad ran a small museum and graduated from an art school, his passionate hobby is living history (colonial America specifically). my Granddad was a jack-of-all, and always successful at any career (teacher, salesman, magazine editor, tin-smith, military trainer and officer, business owner, etc.). and his passion was science, especially astronomy and cosmology. he and i would talk for hours about everything from Saturn's rings to quantum physics. i'd say by age 12 i knew more about carpentry, camping, survival, guns, small electronics, household electrical work, hunting, orienteering, science than most adults. an aside, my mom runs my home county's library system, so all this should give yall some insight into my childhood. ...yes, i was born to be a geek. no escaping it.
we had our dysfunction, but it was always due to no one being able to discuss any heavy or emotional issues. never any abuse really -- some could argue abuse, because my parents did use a belt on me, or a hand. i don't hit my kids, it doesn't work. but i wouldn't say my parents were abusive. never any drinking nor drugs. and while my mom is a travel agent for guilt trips (even to this day), i wouldn't say there was any emotional abuse either. and we NEVER talked about sex. i learned that from friends, cousins, and a few library books. ;-) though one exception: i was looking at a book of anatomy, the kind where it's a picture of a human split in half down the center, and similar. i remember discovering that the testicle was made up of more than one part. i had assumed they were just singular orbs. i was looking at this book in my Granddad's office as he was in his chair reading, and i asked him about some of the strange latin names. i was hesitant and embarrassed, but he answered as if we were talking about an elbow. so i asked about few more male details and again, his way of answering was quite matter-o-fact. in hindsight, i realize that, THAT (his composure) was very good for my development.
so in summation: while i was a head of the curve on many areas of boyhood, i was very behind the curve on the intangible things. emotional stuff, spiritual stuff, mental stuff... all lost on me. during puberty, i totally understand the mechanics of sex and the physiology of puberty, i was clueless on how to understand what i was *feeling*. and when i had my first anxiety attack at age 11 in the middle of the night, i tried to explain what my brain was doing to me, and my dad said nothing, and my mom said to just go back to bed. it wasn't until my mid-20's that i realized that my depression and anxiety started at age 11. and from mid-elementary school age to 9th grade, i was bullied alot. early on, i tried to talk to my folks about it. that got me "just ignore them and they will leave you alone". nothing else done about it. and of course, that advice is (and always will be) bullsh!t. so my mantra for a long time was "shut-up and bottle-up"
as you can see, i reversed that finally. now i write ridiculously longs posts. :)
My dad has always been my hero. He was a director of different non- profit organizations, which caused us to move a few times over the years, when I was very young from Toronto to Edmonton to Portland, Oregon, and after my Freshman year in college at University of Washington in Seattle to Dallas, where I moved after completing law school. My dad was busy with meetings early in the morning and in the evening, but always had time for my mom, and my sister and I. He was patient even when tested, and it took a lot to get a spanking. He is a listener, and has trained me to be the same way. He is highly respected internationally in his profession. The words I hear about him most often from the many I know him is "I love your dad." He worked hard to find the answer to my mother's severe mood swings, that tortured her, and all of us. When they found an answer my mom was always compliant with medication. He showed me the meaning of love as he cared for my mom when she dealt so courageously with the ravages of Parkinson's Disease, and died early at age 64. At 75 he completed his PH.D> and has continued to work as the director of a philanthropic fund. He has taught at the university level since then, and since that time continues to serve on boards , learn , take classes, see all my plays, travel, take pilates, yoga, and learn any exercise that is new. The most important thing I learn from my dad is to always be growing , learning. living in the moment, and learning from history. Dad was the first person I knew to have an internet connection in the very early 90s. He is a very loving father and grandfather. He gets involved with everything our kids do. For instance, after seeing a play my daughter wrote on autism, he had my daughter send a copy of the script to a friend of ours who has recently published a very well received book about his autistic son. Dad thought each might have something to share with the other. Both he and my son are interested in photography (obsessed is more like it) , so they spend time talking about equipment, and photoshop. Dad takes my son to meetings of the Dallas Camera Club. He is fully engaged in the world., and there are many other men I know like that . The At the cusp of 86, though his hearing is less than perfect, to me my dad is the perfect man,
Stein, I love your dad! Seriously, he sounds like an awesome guy to have in your life. What a rolemodel.
Now how closely do you think your son would describe you to your father?
It's funny but it seems that the more you're at peace with your dad the less you've got to say about him, good or bad.
There's plenty to be said, but I'm just going to say that my dad messed up tons of things because like most men he had no idea what he was doing when he got married and started a family.
However, over the years I've really come to appreciate his wisdom and consistency.
Something came up on one of the other boards that made me want to write this.
A few times, I've tried to but I think your father is a hard thing to write about, to know how to describe things. And then there's the element that until you start to write about it, you don't realize how intensely personal your perceptions of your father are and you don't really want to open it up for others to hear.
My father was born in 1941, in Freeport, New York. He was named after his father, who had been born in the hills of Kentucky and when his parents died at 14, he lied about his age and got into the army. After that he moved to New York city, looking for the bright lights he'd never seen at home. Every summer my grandfather would drive his family back to Kentucky to visit the clan, thus my dad's love of Bluegrass music.
My dad always spoke of his own father in the deepest tones of admiration and respect. And I have always been proud to have his name and I have named my son with that name as well, a name and tradition that is now well over 110 years old.
After serving in the Air Force, my dad started working at New York Telephone, and met my mother. They married and had two sons and two daughters, I am the youngest.
When I was four we moved to Kentucky. The culture shock goes without saying, but we felt at home and today I am the only family member who doesn't live in the south.
A few years after moving to Kentucky my parents divorced, due to trouble from the death of one of their children shortly after birth. Looking back, I now see what a struggle they had and how hard it was for them to hold the family together. My father had always been a good father and provider so he stayed very involved after the divorce.
When I was ten, half of the family moved back to New York so I only saw my father on school breaks.
My dad loved fishing, history and traveling so I remember many days spent riding in my dad's Ford Ranger, which smelled of old vinyl, tobacco and Wrigley's peppermint and had two huge chrome air horns on the hood. While fishing or visiting a civil war battlefield or a museum, he'd often tell us stories about his parents and growing up in New York. My dad always wore a huge handlebar mustache and sideburns and also a ring his father won in a poker game.
After dinner many nights my dad would often play his guitar and sing country and bluegrass songs. My mother bought him a nice Gibson for their anniversary to replace the old Giannini he bought when in the Air Force. He played the harmonica too but not as often.
My dad did the typical things, played ball with us, wrestled on the living room floor, patiently disciplined us when we deserved it but what I remember most was they way he thought about things. He was not an educated man, my grandfather could not read and my father barely finished high school, but his mind was keen and it wasn't until I was older that I realized that many of the things my dad had thought about could be found in esoteric history, philosophy or science books that he'd never read. He just had interesting ideas and if you asked him, he would tell you about it.
I realized that even though my father didn't say much in most situations, that behind his calm exterior, he was always watching and learning. In that way I'm probably more like him than anyone in my family.
What I learned most from my father is that people rarely show, in any obvious way, what they really are thinking or feeling. Though my father is cheerful and has a hearty laugh, it is sometimes easy to think that he is cold.
When I was around 12 my father, who cursed, drank and smoked like a sailor (though I never saw him drunk), became a Christian and gave those things up overnight, much to his family's surprise. He later became a pastor and head of several churches. Whenever I went with him to one of the denominational gatherings or to something related to his job, I was sort of surprised to see the respect and deference people showed him.
Things with my father weren't perfect by any means. My brother has a lot of resentment for my father, which at times I have had too. It wasn't until I was an adult that I really began to understand that I have been really blessed to have my father. He had a lot of obstacles that I don't describe here, but my father dealt with them with faith and endurance, learning valuable lessons through his failures and his seeking to do what honors God adn teach others to do the same.
Seeing how others had recognized his wisdom, I realized I'd always taken him for granted.
Today, my father's once jet-black hair is white and I am sobered realizing that my time with him is short. I don't intend to waste it.
Thanks for sharing that.
BTW, thanks for all of your stories. I read them all and they were interesting, and they finally prompted me to put down some thoughts about my dad that have been rolling around in my head for years.
Todd, what you said about wanting approval and fathering from your dad really hits home. I would imagine most men, and especially men on AoM have often felt that. Thanks for giving us the story of your father.
My relationship with my father cannot be understood without the shadows of insight I have gained about my father's relationship with his father.
Supposedly, carrying on the family name is an important part of a man's drive. Having never met any relatives from my paternal side, this notion is foreign to me. I once spoke to my paternal grandmother on the phone - just a few brief words exchanged on a transpacific call. She has severe dementia, perhaps even Alzheimer's. My eldest sister once visited her, perhaps fifteen years ago when she went to Japan. She initially welcomed her into her home, then asked who she was after the tea was served.
This woman is my only surviving grandparent. I do not know how old she is, and my existence likely does not register in her consciousness. All I know about her is that she was her husband's second wife. His first wife ran away, so he took the servant girl to be his new wife. My father was the product of this second marriage.
They were poor; most of Japan was in the fifties, hardly a decade after the Second World War. My father knew hunger. If I ever heard what his father did for a living, I have forgotten.
I do not know much about my father's boyhood, other than one incident in which he saw his father on the street on his way back from school, but his father passed by him without any acknowledgment.
As a young man, my father converted to Christianity. He went to college by paying for it himself, driving trucks. After completing his bachelor's degree, he came alone to the United States to pursue graduate school in Southern California. He became a private tutor to sustain a living. Eventually, he became a school teacher, a career that he has maintained to the present day.
My father believes he was called to go become a pastor, so he entered seminary. He learned English, then took courses in theology, biblical interpretation, Greek and Hebrew. By the time I was born, my father had been pastoring a steady congregation for a number of years.
My early years were happy. I was the youngest child of a successful immigrant family. My parents purchased a large house in a privileged neighborhood. I went to the excellent local public school during the week, then my parents sent me, along with my siblings, to Japanese school on Saturdays. Sunday was church day.
Early in my adolescence, marital tensions, economic uncertainty and the stress of children going through puberty all combined to dissolve my illusion of a perfect suburban childhood. I realized that my father did not know me well. He was so busy with teaching and pastoring and some side jobs. I was becoming a young man myself, and my father was absent in teaching me about the things my peers were learning from their fathers. Most of all, I craved relationship with him, for him to be proud of me as he truly knew me for who I was.
Breaking the cycle.
Providence provided men in my life that I admired and who cared to get to know me. My best friend's father, teachers in my high school, and some men at a church I began attending alongside that of my upbringing. Michael Chabon explains surrogate fatherhood so poignantly in his book, Manhood for Amateurs: "I do know for certain that I have never been one to refuse the opportunity to add another father to my collection. [My father-in-law] offered himself completely, without reservation, though in his own particular, not to say limited, way (it is this inherent limited quality of fathers and their love that motivates collectors like me to try to amass a complete set).
Part of becoming a mature man is to acknowledge ones own finitude and imperfection. As I have had fathers in my life who have, in their limited ways, loved me with respect and hope for my future, I have begun to find the serenity to love my father as he has been and is now. My ultimate Father loves me and is proud of me. He knows what I am made of, and He knows how I fail. Yet, He calls me His beloved son in whom He is well pleased. My set of fathers is complete in Him.
Our relationship has much room to grow in intimacy, but it is alive. I pray that it continues to heal, grow and thrive.
"it is this inherent limited quality of fathers and their love that motivates collectors like me to try to amass a complete set"
poetic and salient; what a great approach