Fathers Know Best
May 29, 2020 08:30AM
By Neal Allen
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Dads, lighten up. Yes, all dads project their own fears and hopes on their children. If Dad dreamed of becoming a first baseman for the Yankees, he’ll push Johnny into baseball, ignoring his son’s preference for woodworking. If Dad harbored hopes of being the next Hemingway, he’ll praise Mary’s poetry, and maybe skip a few of her tedious soccer games.
Those are the facts, ma’am. Dads have a habit of imposing their own success goals on their kids. It’s not built into fatherhood to let kids willy-nilly develop their own talents and dreams. Does that ruin the kids? Who knows? It happens in just about every family, so good luck finding a control group for the experiment.
There may be no hope for the kids, but how about the dads? What might happen if they notice this odd behavior and how might that lighten their own loads?
Most of us dads, most of the time, initially take on the responsibility of fatherhood—income, protection, education—with drive and purpose. We make compromises with our pre-dad selves. The sports car gets traded in for a minivan. Playing guitar becomes a hobby, not a professional goal. We sign on at the warehouse. New dads around the country are making these changes every day, and mostly with alacrity.
It’s later, when the perfect infant becomes the complaining toddler or rejecting teenager, that the vexing notion arises that another life could have been lived. This form of nostalgia—for what never came—is bitter. The word “nostalgia”, after all, comes from the Greek for “the pain of going home”.
But by seeing himself project his dreams on his children, a father can also see how he’s holding onto a suspect belief that another life would have been better. With maturity, a dad can revisit his adolescent dreams; not nostalgically, but with the wisdom that comes with age. Did I really have a chance at the Yankees? Be real. Weren’t there two guys in high school alone who had more talent?
Asking these questions, a father might even notice that no one in the family measures his worth in worldly achievements. A dad is best remembered in his capacity for love, kindness, forgiveness, everyday strength and friendliness. Your child may know you’re a master carpenter. But what she remembers is that day when you gently showed her the right way to hold a hammer.
Neal Allen is a spiritual coach and author who shares seven children, step-children and grandchildren with his wife, writer Anne Lamott. His book on a new path to personal freedom will be released by Hierophant Publishers in spring 2021.