Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How I became a better...father


I am starting a new series of Guest Posts by some people in my life.  Some have blogs and some don't, but they all have a story of how they became better.  I hope you enjoy a few other voices here on my blog.

Today we hear from a familiar voice.  We heard from him in the interview series.  Jeff blogs at The Rantings of a Dad.  He is hilarious and he can be serious as well.  Today is some of both and a really amazing story.  Enjoy.
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Father's Day Cake 2009 Photo Credit: Jim the Photograhper


Something I learned that made me a better… what? A story that illustrates how I got to be a better… what?  Drawing a blank here.  


Oh.


I got it.


Failure.


Constant failure.  


“Failures are only truly failures if we do not learn from them,” said some other guy who I either paraphrased or just stole that from.


However, to admit my own failures and shortcomings is what my own blog is for.  I write about my adventures/misadventures in parenting and things I learned from them. I also sometimes write a little morsel of parenting wisdom I’ve uncovered or a top ten list of something where I attempt to be humorous.  That’s just shameless self-promotion there, so you’re welcome to disregard that (but you’re encouraged to check out my blog!).  So here I am, about to tell you about one of the biggest screw ups I know, and how I learned to be a better husband and dad. No, I learned how to be a better man because of this guy’s mess ups.


Who is this poor schmuck you ask?  


My dad.


For the record, I love the old man.  Yes, he’s a walking embarrassment sometimes, in his ratty old white t-shirts and bibbed overalls.  Yes, he chases women relentlessly.  Creepily.  Very creepily at times.  He once asked out a girl I had dated and didn’t know it.  The girl emailed me and told me how embarrassed she was and apologized for anything she may have done to “lead my dad on.”  Though I laughed, my father felt humiliated – as he should have.  


She was way out of his league.


The thing is, he was a horrible dad.  I often remember some of the things he did as I raise my own daughter and laugh, but then realize how traumatized I was by the event and almost tear up.  


Yeah, I’m pretty messed up, I guess.


This one time, I was only about four years old, he wanted me to go fishing with him. I didn’t want to go that particular day because I’d told my mom I wanted to help her clean house, and he berated me by telling me that I should just stay home with my mom then, and maybe he’d get me a dress while he was out, too, since I’d rather stay home like a little girl. I sat on our front porch and cried for over an hour before my mom made me come inside.


In his book, “Wild at Heart,” John Eldridge talks about how a father has a way to wound his child in ways no one else can.  I remember that day like it was yesterday, but if you were to ask my dad it was probably just a Thursday to him.  That did wound me, as did countless other things.  Its no wonder that when I hit puberty, to say the least, my mind was a mess.  


My dad wasn’t just good at wounding me.  My mother and sisters also caught all kinds of verbal garbage.  Though he never hit my mom, I think it is safe to say he had an affair.  No, he never slept with another woman; his mistress was his work.


Ironically, on Father’s Day 2000, my mom packed up everything in the house and moved out.  Just leaving me behind.  When I say “everything” I mean “everything,” too.  What kind of person doesn’t leave mustard in the fridge when they leave?  She didn’t even like mustard!


That broke my dad.  He finally realized what he’d done all those years, and after he got over the fact that his wife had left and taken his garden tiller (not even joking, he was pretty upset about that), with tears in his eyes he said, “Jeffrey, don’t be like me. I’ve really screwed everything up.”


He didn’t have to say that.  I knew he had.  I’d spent the past eighteen years taking mental notes of what he was doing and telling myself that whatever it was he did, I had to do the opposite.


So if my daughter wants to play with trucks in the mud and not pretty dolls, am I going to berate her? No. I’m going to roll up my sleeves and play in the dirt, too.  If someday I have a son and he wants to stay home and clean house rather than go to a football game? Hand me a broom.


I constantly tell my daughter and my wife that I love them.  I hold my wife’s hand when we watch t.v. and give my daughter a big hug every day.  Yeah, other people have worse fathers. I’m not going to debate that.  I’m just saying that I learned how to be a good one because I had a bad one.

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