By DL Banks
At times I thought my dad was an accordion. When he looked at me and smiled and breathed, I heard the notes.
I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom. Fathers never have exactly the daughters they want because they invent a notion for them that the daughters have to conform to. Listen, there is no way any true man is going to let children live around him in his home and not discipline and teach, fight and mold them until they know all he knows. His goal is to make them better than he is. Being their friend is a distant second to this. A father’s tears and fears are unseen, his love is unexpressed, but his care and protection remains as a pillar of strength throughout our lives.
I never defined myself as the son of a father who couldn’t or hasn’t or wouldn’t or wasn’t. Fathers should make you feel safe. There’s no better cure for the fear of taking after one’s father, than not to know who he is. You never would get through to the end of being a father, no matter where you stored your mind or how many steps in the series you followed. Not even if you died. Alive or dead a thousand miles distant, you were always going to be on the hook for work that was neither a procedure nor a series of steps but, rather, something that demanded your full, constant attention without necessarily calling you to do, perform, or say anything at all. Fathers will always try to teach their sons how to be good fathers.
A good father loves his daughter with no strings attached. He is available. He is both strong and tender. Being big and strong doesn’t mean being separate from one’s feelings; to the contrary, it means being very much in touch with them. Women who experienced fathers like that know that a strong man can cry, and that a man who can cry can also be very strong. The psychological absence of fathers can be nearly as devastating as physical absence. When fathers are alive but not a predictable presence actively participating in their daughter’s lives the relationship becomes a permanent maybe.
Loving my daughters, and son, building my daughters, touching my son, playing with my son, being with my daughters these aren’t tasks that only super dads can perform. These are tasks that every dad should perform. Always. Without fail. Many fathers believe the lie that they play a second-class role to the mother. If you are a father, I want to remind you that your children want and need you. You are critical to their well-being and success. The importance of fatherhood in our society is gravely underrated; the damage of fatherless generations is upon us. It isn’t just the physical presence of the father that matters it’s our engagement and involvement. An emotionally remote or rejecting or actively punitive father leads to girls’ feeling pretty apprehensive around men.
Dads. It’s time to show our sons how to properly treat a woman. It’s time to show our daughters how a girl should expect be treated. It’s time to show forgiveness and compassion. It’s time to show our children empathy. It’s time to break social norms and teach a healthier way of life! It’s time to teach good gender roles and to ditch the unnecessary ones. Does it really matter if your son likes the color pink? Is it going to hurt anybody? Do you not see the damage it inflicts to tell a boy that there is something wrong with him because he likes a certain color? Do we not see the damage we do in labeling our girls “tom boys” or our boys “feminine” just because they have their own likes and opinions on things? Things that really don’t matter? Children are gifts. They are not ours for the breaking. They are ours for the making.
Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating…too often fathers neglect it because they get so caught up in making a living they forget to make a life. I’d love to know how my father saw me when I was 6. I’d love to know a hundred things. When a parent dies, a filing cabinet full of all the fascinating stuff also ceases to exist. I never imagined how hungry I’d be one day to look inside it. Parenting isn’t something you do. It’s who you are. You are a mother. You are a father. Remember the end goal You are trying to make a full grown human capable of surviving in the wild on their own. You aren’t going to keep them forever. You can’t make them live your life for you. You can’t coddle them and do everything for them. You are preparing them to leave you. Don’t lose sight of that!
I believed then and part of me will always believe that my father’s words ought to be my own.
Thanks dad for all the love and great memories, eternally your son.