I watched a video on YouTube recently. The artist finished the introduction of his song by saying “And frankly, this song scares me to death.” I instantly related.
It’s hard being Dad. We are pulled in so many different directions. Many of us relate to the desire to provide for our family. There also is a natural inclination to give our kids all the things we wish we’d had. And since no parent is perfect we realize that we are not perfect either. And the effects of those imperfections on our children “scares us to death.” Or at least it should.
I have some great memories of time spent with my children. Having them pile on me in the middle of the floor, Saturday breakfasts at McDonald’s, trips to the park and bike rides with them perched behind me. I still laugh about the time my daughter peered down into the pile of garbage at the county dump. As I was throwing boxes of garbage from my truck into the pile below I had suggested that she not get too close. Having learned her lessons in kindergarten well she commented, “If I fell in Daddy, they would probably just recycle me huh?”
Unfortunately for every positive memory it seems like there is a negative memory. The times I was too “busy” to tuck them in, leaving that to Mom. The times I became impatient because things were not done just right. The times I was too busy on the computer to take a trip to the park or watch a silly kids video on TV.
Since my Dad never really attended my school activities I decided that I would attend as many of my kids’ activities as I could. And I was, suffering through many grade school Christmas programs. But there is no one perfect formula. My dad unfailingly took me fishing almost every Saturday during the summer and patiently rigged up my fishing pole until I was able to do it on my own. At the end of every trip we would stop at the store and get pop and snacks. This was often the highlight of the day for me. I didn’t realize all that was being passed on to me at the time; all the little tricks my dad taught me about how to catch fish. I now go on a fall fishing trip to Lava Lake in central Oregon with friends every year. We sit in a boat, joke, visit and have a great time. And the fishing is normally really good too. A few years ago we were having no luck at all and after several hours my friend Gary piped up and said, “if Ted isn’t catching fish, no one is catching fish.” It surprised me, but it reminded me of all the times my dad had given me instruction on how to get your line down on the bottom to improve your chances of hooking fish. How to ‘give the fish some slack’ before setting the hook. And after hooking the fish, how to play the fish to minimize the chance of losing them.
It used to bother me that Dad never came to those awful Junior High band concerts. I guess I thought he just didn’t have time for me that way. And as much as I liked the snacks at the end of fishing trips, I figured we really were just going because Dad liked to fish. Years later I realized that after us boys had grown up my dad never really went fishing on his own. The obvious conclusion is that he did it for me and my brothers. I have heard my dad talk about fishing as a kid in Kansas but never heard him talk about fishing with his dad. I suppose, like my determination to attend my kids programs, maybe he determined to take his kids fishing; the thing he never got to enjoy with his dad. The same was true for the multitude of minor league baseball games he took me to for so many summers.
Men are haunted by the the challenge of the father-son relationship. We want to do the best we can but are always wondering if we are doing enough. If you have experienced teenage children you might wonder if the effort even matters. But it does matter and as life goes on you begin to understand that.
Yes, I still have regrets but not so much as in the past. We live and learn as we age and it is never too late to change. And change does make a difference. I’m sure my kids would tell you I’m a better dad now then I was in the past, and kids are more forgiving of our shortcomings than we often realize.
I carried the song Cats in the Cradle on a cassette in my truck for years, and would take it out every so often to play while alone. The line that scared me the most was the one that says “He’d grown up just like me, my boy was just like me.” My kids are grown now and that line doesn’t scare me so much any more. What was once a fear is now a challenge. You see, I’m a lot like my dad and proud of it. Is it too much to believe that with faith we can grow in wisdom and character until the day we are able, as fathers, to say, “Yeah, my son IS just like me!” I would hope we strive for nothing less.