Saturday, June 20, 2009

Some thoughts on being a son

When I was growing up, my dad occasionally expressed fear that he was failing as a father. To be truthful, I didn't know how to respond.

As I look back decades later, I think he had every reason to feel that way. For openers, he didn't grow up with his father, whom his mother threw out for infidelity when Dad was 5; had no adult male to show him the ropes; and was probably overwhelmed with the responsibilities. I get that today, as many men, especially in the African-American community, are going through the same thing.

Lately, however, I've caught a number of Charles Stanley's messages on the atmosphere that parents are obliged to create to rear healthy children, which is where my dad did fail. Children need to have a sense of belonging and competence; however, my thoughts, talents and tastes were never accepted, let alone valued, and I was merely expected to conform to the family dynamic. (Which I knew I never could and thus didn't even try.) Though all my gifts and interests were in the arts and communications, as a career I was steered toward math and science -- ostensibly to make a lot of money but ultimately, I suspect, to keep me cooped up at home.

Which leads me to another important point. Last year I ran into a woman that Dad had been involved with after my mother left him -- at the time of his death I was not on speaking terms with him, so I met her only at the first viewing -- and she noted that my mother, brother and I "were all he had."

That was a problem -- perhaps the problem. You see, Dad was using us to determine his identity and give him the security he always lacked. That, of course, was neither our role nor our responsibility because -- well, if he didn't give them to us, where were we supposed to get them?

OK, OK, I'll get out of the self-pity mode. Anyway, I now understand that the most important thing a father can give to his children is a sense of vision, hopefully to make this world just a little bit better than when they came into it. I think that's the problem with many families -- they try to buy a home in the nicest suburb available to raise their kids to go out and make money and start the whole process over again, with no rhyme or reason. Granted, these things aren't bad in themselves, but when that becomes the bottom line ... well, don't you feel a sense of emptiness, that you should be doing more with your life? Even "Christian" families get stuck in that same rut.

As a single man who probably will never have his own children (and thus not engaged in that battle), it's probably easy for me to make those kind of pronouncements. Still, I have an idea of what I would do were I a father -- and, more importantly, what I need to become an effective man. Number one on the list would be to cultivate friendships with older men who have been through the process. (Which I wish Dad would have done.)

Because I may never be a father -- but I will always be a son.

No comments: