As a child, my dad was my all-time favourite person. He took me everywhere with him, whether that was the cash and carry, the park, warehouses for shop stock, relatives houses, friends’ houses, the social club; we had fun.Growing up in the early 80’s, life was quite simple.
We listened to our parents, disciplining was quite straight forward for our parents and our expectations were low.
This was all fine until I turned 13, and then my relationship with my dad seemed to change. I don’t know how, or why.
My dad was my rock. He was at the time, a towering weightlifting, hard working man, who said little, but did lots.
Come 13 though, and dad was working long hours, and my studies were taking precedence, my expectation of my dad was really different, I needed someone to guide me through the changes of becoming a teenager, and all of the crap that followed puberty. I was changing from a boy to a young man. I wanted support emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and found that my mum was better equipped for helping than my dad.
That’s not a negative reflection on my dad, but he just didn’t give what I needed, which was a listening ear, some solid positive guidance and real direction. The problems arose when my peers were too busy going through their own shit, that I then felt isolated and alone.
I think too that my dad also had differing expectations of his relationship with me. He may have wanted me to be different with him too. He may have wanted me to laugh at all his dad jokes, tolerate his moods, learn to be a designated driver REAAAALY early on, and the list could go on.. But as a young boy, I had no idea how to be myself, let alone be a version of someone else’s expectation.
So fast forward 27 years and I am now a dad to a four year old. Navigating all the detail of what it means to raise a boy in the 21st century.
Like all dads I’m dealing with the fundamentals of being a good role model, while having fun, conversing with him, finding out what he likes, doesn’t like etc yet trying to instil some discipline in him to equip him for school life.
So here’s what I feel I have missed out on as a son, that have left me with issues which I am still dealing with and healing through today.
Dads are a son’s first example of masculinity (however you define the term).
They grow through the example we set not the words that we say.
Many of my shortcomings, insecurities, immature moments, come from not having had that from a paternal caregiver or strong male role models around me in my early teens. My cousins were older than me, and were dealing with their own issues, and the majority of my school friends were too busy making their cliques around their tribal backgrounds which left me really ill-equipped to handle life’s real challenges – and these have very real consequences.
I found myself being slow at communicating with my wife in a constructive manner that resembles a partnership, rather than a competitor for who’s right. I saw this in my dad and other men around my dad who as patriarchs, didn’t communicate and ask questions to their wives but commanded and demanded and expected not to be accountable as a partnership.
My inability to hold strong male friendships comes from not having had seen that in my adult role models. I have a few really close friends now but it wasn’t always the case.
Dads set the example of having good company and their sons then imitate, so now I overcompensate in responsibility often forgetting to have fun.
I saw some sides to my dad that I wanted to make sure that I didn’t copy and so I went to the next role model- mum, who was overly serious and responsible, and as such I missed out on having fun, and I miss out on those moments now too, all hoping not to be a bad example to my son.
I wasn’t always able to “do the right thing” as a man, which took a hell of a long time to get to grips with and so at times when a response is needed, I leant towards the wrong or even worse – an inappropriate one.
Boys growing up will always need to see strength in being able to pause, reflect, and take a good decision. This comes from, I feel, the ability to look at their immediate world and the defining moments in their life that then create the necessary blueprints to help them in adulthood.
I can’t say that I am anywhere near a good dad, nor do I believe that I have what it takes to be an awesome dad. The only thing I know is that when my son was born, I felt like I had a renewed purpose in life.
“To live with purpose, you must live on purpose”
If I can create my life for this purpose, I’m sure it’s a step in the right direction.