photo credit by Jim, the Photographer
I asked my son to frame is thoughts on the meaning of fatherhood drawing from his own experiences. I asked that he reflect upon the fathers he had encountered. When I received this letter, I was moved deeply by it’s depth and wisdom.
I spent many years as a Mr. Mom raising him in New York and Puerto Rico essentially on my own except for his high school years. Gabriel experienced what children go through with divorced parents especially those that need to overcome large geographical distances between the homes of their parents. The level of insecurity and ambivalence that children go through can take a big toll. It is quite natural to expect that children raised under these circumstances will have some level of emotional scar tissue or worse.
In those early years, I needed to help Gabriel to be independent and to make choices on his own. More often than not he would be caught up in situations where he would not be able to turn to either parent for support. I decided to focus my effort on engaging him to understand the meaning of values and to see himself as a leader capable of imparting to others what he had learned. When he confronted difficult moments, I would ask him how he would handle the situation if neither parent was present.
One episode comes to mind in 1996, when Gabriel was in the 5th grade at the St John’s School in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I arrived to pick him up at school and he was rather disturbed by something that occurred during a recess period in his classroom.
He described a scene with a group of boys huddled together secretively discussing something in low voices. As Gabriel approached the group, one of the boys invited him to join in. When he asked what they were talking about another of the boys said they were learning how to overcome the parental controls on the cable remotes so they could watch the channels with the “naked girls” while the parents were away.
At this point, I recall stopping dead in my tracks and turning to him. I asked in a somber tone, “Well, what did you do? ”
” I told them I did not need to know that stuff because you did not lock the remote. You left it up to me to watch what I liked. And you spent a lot of time watching movies and cartoons with me.”
I was aghast. Imagine boys ages, 9- 10 years old, were teaching each other how to circumvent a parental control feature which they would adeptly learn to reset to avoid detection!
I began to question whether I had left my son vulnerable to adult sexual content on cable. Had I been too permissive and lax on this issue?
He noticed the puzzled look on my face, a parent caught in that vortex between doing too little or overreaching. I mustered the courage to ask the next question, “What did you say.”
“I told them you trusted me to do the right thing even when you were not around.”
I have been remembering moments such as these since I received his letter. It is very gratifying to know that he has developed a moral compass for himself and more importantly that he has adopted for a set of beliefs and values that will make him a great dad one day.
Any man can father another human being, but it takes a real man to truly be one. There are qualities that I know I would need to be good father, however, I know greatly of what it takes because I have one of my own. The impossible part was figuring out which traits you don’t fit in. So here goes:
- Unconditional Love: The most important thing that any real parent needs to have for their child is not just love, but unconditional love. Within the trait is a level of selflessness and compassion that falls into the true meaning of love. Because real love contains the aspiration of happiness, success, and abundance for your child. This human being you helped bring into the world is in great part a new version of you; but it takes a true parent to allow them the freedom to choose their own path and create their own destiny in order to fulfill their unique role in the world.
- Presence: It’s pretty obvious that in order to be a good father, one must be present in that child’s life no matter what. Regardless of distance, a father would do anything in his power to make sure he plays a role in his child’s life.
- Wisdom: It’s a father’s duty to teach his son or daughter what it means to be a good human being. The world can be a difficult place and it takes a father to guide a child in the right direction so they can grow to become strong, independent, and resilient. Everyone knows that a person without good values was definitely not raised properly.
- Patience: Fatherhood can be difficult. From an early age, children can express defiant behavior and it will only get worse and more dramatic as they get older. A true father is patient and understanding because arrogance and ignorance are part of a natural phase of a human being’s adolescence. Only the jerks stay that way in the long run. A good father understands that human error is an opportunity for growth and learning; not for condemnation.
- Selflessness: A good father always puts his children first and can sacrifice much in the process. An important part in a father’s life is the transformation and adjustment that occurs from being just being one’s own person into being the father of a human being. The only thing a father imposes is a strong moral code and system of values; anything else would not be fair to the child because he or she needs to create his or her own identity based only upon what you teach them.
I am extremely proud to know that I have always been leagues ahead of my peers because of the wisdom my you imparted to me. As a young man, the greatest gift I ever received was the foundation of knowledge you established within me so that I may be the incredible human being I am destined to be; because behind every incredible person is an incredible mentor and guide. I was lucky that person was my father. As a parent, the best way to live up to your legacy is to impart everything I’ve learned onto the next generation.