I guess I know enough about fatherhood to get by. Maybe I know all I need to, considering I’ll never be a father. A lifetime of experience, having been reared by a great father and the fact I happened to rear a couple of very, very good fathers.
Truth be known, one of the main factors to contribute to making my sons better dads than they might have been otherwise is their own father’s absence for a lot of important stages and events of their lives. I do believe it was coincidental their father wasn’t more involved. He lived far away, traveled a lot and had a demanding executive position. He thought, I think, at some point there would be more time, different circumstances and somehow a chance would present itself for him and our sons to make up for lost time.
But he died. He’d battled lung cancer for several years, but to the very end thought he was going to beat it. Fighting that fight, things that should have been said beyond the focus of beating the disease never got said. Things I know he thought should have been made clear were not.
So, if I were giving advice on fatherhood – and again, I am hardly qualified – let what I’ve already written be a lesson. Sons should not have to be seated at their father’s funeral and hear from the person delivering the eulogy their father loved them and was proud of them.
Anyway, thinking about fathers I’ve known, I remembered for some silly reason an incident from when our oldest son was about 3. He’s 38 now. We lived in Peoria, Illinois, and on a Saturday morning, I’d come downstairs fix breakfast. The coffee had just finished perking. There was a lovely peace and quiet to the morning. The bacon was starting to sizzle in the frying pan. It was going to be a grand day, I could tell.
In the kitchen doorway, our son appeared.
“Mama,” he said, “I want donuts for breakfast.”
“No,” I said, shocked not to be on the same page as a 3-year-old. “We’re having bacon and eggs.”
“I want donuts.”
Well – and this is key – I didn’t have enough sense but to argue with a 3-year-old. And the argument escalated from there and within minutes the toddler was rolling on the floor having a squalling fit, and I was gritting my teeth, thinking of joining him. How dare he mess with the peace of my good morning?
His dad came down the stairs and calmly inquired what the ruckus was about. I was too mad to say anything – besides I had eggs to crack, bread to butter, bacon grease to drain.
Travis announced furiously that he wanted donuts for breakfast and I wouldn’t let him have them.
Do you know what his father said? He said, “Good idea, Trav. Go look in the pantry and see if we have any donuts.”
Well, of course we didn’t and when Travis reported back to his dad there were none, his dad looked truly disappointed and said, “Awww. That’s too bad. I guess we’ll have to have donuts next Saturday.”
Yep. That was all there was too it. Crisis averted. Calmness restored.
Gosh I hate to stereotype here, but for years that scenario and a few others, similar, have been my example for the difference between moms and dads. Moms? We work ourselves up, get ourselves into a lather because this needs to be this way, that needs to be that way – or else. Dads on the other hand, just show up, cut through the what-ifs like they’re not there and calm things down.
It’s like the old quote I’ve shared before. Sometimes accomplishments are like the dog walking on its hind legs. It’s not the quality of the performance we’re after, it’s the fact it can be done at all.
The best thing a father can do is show up. Be there with ears that listen, a voice that can reason. Be honest with praise and criticism. Honesty on both sides of the equation gives greater significance to the element on the other side, but try to be more generous with the praise. Be the best example you can be. Respect what’s right. Have a good time every chance you get and act like you appreciate the opportunity of being your children’s dad.
Trust me when I say this, you’ll be appreciated more than you know, for longer than you can imagine.
Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.