Any dad I’ve ever known who is worthy of the title is also very much a cartoon. We bluster and rage. We sermonize and pontificate. We’re often awkward, childish and silly. The eye rolls we elicit are not always unjustly awarded. Like tortured artists, our hands and voices don’t always properly render what we think and feel. We are imperfect beings, hoping that the best of us gets more purely distilled into our children.
To the best of our kids’ knowledge we popped into being as fully-formed and culturally unaware parental golems. They choose to not ponder the notion that moments before their own birth, we were probably proto-adults, with no tangible clue about much of anything. We were starting our lives, with jobs and money problems, learning how to be grown-ups. If both chromosomal donors were together, we were probably still learning how to do that too. The various school campuses that they’re so convinced they own were ours just a few short years before. Generationally speaking, we were mere moments removed from fights with our own parents over piercings and tattoos. It’s understandable that we didn’t and don’t have all the answers.
But when everything locks in and we’re running smoothly and at our best, dads can be inspirational, compelling, supportive, tender, and aspirational. In our finest moments, we can show our kids the kind of person they could be. And when we fall short, we have the opportunity to show them how good people make amends. We can show our kids how people should treat one another. We can show them what it means to live with passion.
We can allow them to know us, who we are, and who we were. I want the boys to know who Troy is, why I believe the way I do, where my scars come from. I want them to see the blemishes and realize that my quest to be the best person I can be is unfinished and it’s own reward. I think it’s important that they understand that all the things I’m telling them didn’t come from a book I read called “How to Dad: 1001 Weird Things To Say For Every Occasion”. (It’s really more of a graphic novel)
All the good dads I’ve ever known also have this in common: they talk with their kids. About anything. About everything. No question is off the table. No topic is forbidden. We can fire mind-bullets into their brain pans all day long, but that doesn’t really give them the opportunity to feel engaged or invested. I sometimes speak to my sons in ways that aren’t accessible, or even decipherable. I’m known to speak in circles, and have difficulty sticking to the theme. I deliver simple thoughts in opaque and rambling word-splatter. So boys, this is what I meant to say:
Be kind, and apologize when you’re not.
Speak the truth, and if you say you’ll do a thing, do that thing.
No matter what it is, work the problem and do your best. Make your Future Self proud.
Listen more often than you speak. Seek to be informed rather than to inform.
Be optimistic and enthusiastic in the face of disappointment.
Be the type of men who would set down their burdens to help another carry theirs.
If you love someone, stand, bemused and brave, and say so.
The world is not set against you, it just doesn’t know you. So step bravely and make your introduction.
Live with passion. Don’t be afraid of the new and wondrous. Find joy in the discovery.