Admonishment to Fathers

We continue on our theme--because the book is entirely about the theme--of what it means to grow up without a father.

from Father Fiction
Donald Miller

Because I didn't have a father, I felt there was a club of men I didn't belong to. I would have never admitted it at the time, but I wanted to belong. I desperately wanted to belong. At the father-and-son campout, I knew Matt wasn't my dad, and I knew he probably didn't want to be there. I knew he was slightly embarrassed that in a group of men who were bonding with their sons, he was walking around with a charity case. I couldn't have put words to it back then, but I felt it. Every time I met an older man, I assumed we would not like me and would not want me around. I felt as though all the men in the world secretly met in some warehouse late at night to talk about man things, to have secret handshakes, to discuss how great it was to have a penis and what an easy thing it was to operate, how to throw a football or a baseball, how to catch a fish and know what kind it was and be able to grab it and stop its flapping around, doing this without jolting their heads back or squinting their eyes. They talked about how to look a woman in the eye and tell her she was your woman and that she looks good in that dress and make it so your eyes say you love her but you could survive without her, and how to drive a stick-shift truck without grinding the gears. And then I secretly believe that at the end of the meeting, they gathered around and reminded each other that under no circumstance was anybody to tell me about these things.
While I cannot admire the specifics he felt he was left out of (and I don't think I'm supposed to admire them--rather they are they for a sort of comic bombast) the reality of what is missing goes straight to the heart. Considering the theme of the missing father, I think it may be important to point out that there are many ways of growing up without a father.  One is like Mr. Miller, without a father in the home at all; another is in a home with a succession of men none of whom are fathers and whose attention to the children amounts to "get out of the way," and a third, the one which I believe many more man experience than care to say, is to grow up in a home in which a father is physically present but unavailable on any but the  most trivial levels--occasional discipline and an infrequent bout of yelling.

It gives one pause, as a father, to consider how available one is to one's children. I don't think any father actually thinks he is emotionally distant or removed from his children--but if he doesn't think it, or have it cross his mind occasionally, that may be a danger sign.  I have a friend who says (in more colorful language than I will use here), "If you can stop and ask yourself if you are being a jerk, it is more likely than not that you either are not being or will choose to back off from being one."  It's the people for whom the question never crosses the threshold on consciousness that there is the most danger.

Without a real father in the home many pieces are missing from a man's life--what to talk about when you talk men's "small talk"  (if there is such a genre), how to conduct yourself properly around other men and around women in whom you see some potential for romantic interest, how to respect another person and how to trust another person.  Obviously, a mother can teach some of these things--but the lessons may not take because the ground is different.  You plant the pink hydrangea in a high-aluminum soil, you'll end up with a blue hydrangea--same genotype but different phenotype.

This book resonates for me as a father.  It makes me look cautiously at what I do and how I interact with my own son.  If it serves only that purpose, then it serves the good.  Our most lasting legacy is the future we shape by bringing children into the world and shaping them to be our future scientists, artists, inventors, politicians, doctors, lawyers, thieves, and scoundrels.  Being a good father to our children may, perhaps, limit the number of the latter that walk the Earth, and so give future generations something to praise their forebears for.


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