Okay, here I am, going to write about fathers and Father's Day and all the joys that a positive male role model can have on a fertile and impressionable child and/or children. I apologize if I disappoint, and I hope to have another happy American ending for a column I'm asked to write to uplift, impress, and inspire those of you who celebrate this auspicious day in our calendar. I may fall short in that endeavor.
My father grew up in a volatile immigrant family and was strange from the time that he was young. He went into the armed forces during the second war and came back as crazy as an outhouse rat. He came back not only jumpy, lethargic, violent, and psychically wall-eyed; he came back without a respect for the common social mores of his times, of which, at that time, there were precious few. He was reactive and unreliable.
Consider this: In times of worldly conflict, you take a million or so 17- to 20-year-olds, give them guns, send them out to kill other people, inform them that they may die as well, and then expect them to come back sane and stable? Not a freaking chance. Consider them lucky if they come back with all their body parts. My father came home damaged.
I was a lad of three when I pissed him off, sitting in my high chair, and with my hands locked underneath the feeding tray, he began to beat me. When my mother intervened, he beat her. Only after he and his brother knocked over a pawn shop and my mother wrote down evidence and threatened to have him jailed if he didn't leave the city and us alone forever, did he disappear from my life. My mother had very bad taste in husbands. I could write a book on that one.
I grew up without a father, and the memory of that beating faded. My mother remarried another immigrant unable to relate to a pack of street-rat kids, and I was raised with a man in the house, but not a father. I was taught that empathy is for sissies; kindness is weakness.
Eventually, I grew and had children of my own, and I knew nothing about being a father, except that physical violence against anything smaller or weaker than I am is categorically wrong and unacceptable. No instruction booklets or elective courses were available for me. Nobody teaches you how to be a father, and I failed. Times have not changed that much for grown males in today's society, and there are a number of fathers today who labor under these same influences and lack of moral compasses when they deal with the fruit of their own loins. Happy Father's Day.
There is a dichotomy in fathers these days: those who have learned the lessons of the counterproductive actions that a father can have on their children and, possibly, whose fathers had learned and passed that evolution of behavior to them. Or, on the other hand, there are still fathers who have a "deliver beatings, raise your kids tough to be able to deal in a tough dog-eat-dog world and take no sh*t from anyone" outlook. They are raising their children to pass on that mentality of me/them/mine by any means; that bully as a hero, tough guy, smart-talking, badass ghetto cred, don't give a f**k attitude; that misogynist role model to look up to. Seed banks, breadwinners, alpha males. Welcome to the world, Sparky.
Are you a father? Have you ever been a father? Do you see yourself as a future father? You had better have your act together, because not only is it a full-time job, but you don't get time off to be a weakling. To be successful, you have to be mentor, clergyman, older brother, psychiatrist, guru, friend, confidant, and gentle disciplinarian-all at the same time. Patient, understanding, guiding, and a person to look up to at all times. There is no one now who can hold you and tell you that everything will be all right; you are now the person who must hold. It's a wake-up, get-up, suit-up, show-up, and never-give-up-on-yourself-or-your-kids kind of job.
I have daughters. I see them; their husbands; their kids, my grandchildren; and I see the adults struggle to be a stable force while dealing with their own and their kids' challenges. I'm proud of the job they are doing. I'm proud of their single grandmothers who bring logic and love to the growing beings who know nothing of what is going on in their world and who need the counsel of someone they look up to.
It is sobering to be a father. There are no breaks; there's no time off. There's a nightmare in the middle of the night to console, the embarrassment of a bedwetting, the dealing with that bully at school, the emerging hormones of a preteen, the heartbreak of young love and attraction, which can all be devastating to a newbie on this physical plane. It's a heroic position to uphold.
So, here's to you and your fathers out there on Father's Day. Men of my generation were taught not to be in touch with their feelings and emotions. Here's hoping that your fathers ignored that teaching. Reach out, rub their balding heads, stroke their fragile egos, tell them you love the way they burn things on that outdoor grill that they use once a year. And while you're up, get them a beer.