On Being A Father

I have a confession to make; I never wanted to have children.  This statement is accurate, and I had my reasons.  Growing up, I was told that children were burdens, specifically that I was a burden. My personality was also inconsistent with parenting as I knew it.  I’m not a person who dictates by shame and insult; my personality is the exact opposite of that.  I felt that I didn’t have what it takes to parent.  No benefit and no skillset; not having kids was the logical choice.

The logic of teenage Mike does not reflect the feelings of adult Mike, so what happened?  One word, Anne, my oldest child.  Ann was a surprise in a troubled first marriage, and I was terrified.  However, something happened when I held her in my arms for the first time, my fears melted away, and I knew that I was up to the task.  I could not parent how I was parented; like so many things, I would have to figure it out for myself.  

I saw my parenting goal as singular.  It was to raise my children to become successful adults.  I love my kids absolutely and would do anything for them.  However, parenting is the job of raising children, which is much more work than being their pal.

You may be confused about what my identifier “successful” means, as the term has a specific connotation for many.  Let me define this further.

Does successful mean reaching monetary wealth?  No, wealth is fine, but money alone does not correlate with a satisfying life.  Success in this regard means having enough money to live comfortably.  In other words, to live a normal life without the constant worry of debt. 

Does successful mean obtaining a high-level job or career?  No, it is wonderful to have a job that interests you; however, a title by itself does little.  In my psychiatric practice, I treated many individuals.  The group that was the most dissatisfied with their lives were lawyers.  Many of these individuals made a great deal of money but hated their jobs and the climate they worked in.  I’m sure some lawyers love their job, and I mention the above to illustrate that title and money are not enough by themselves. 

Does success mean having a high level of skill or education?  Anyone who knows me understands that I value knowledge.  However, knowledge alone does not equate with either success or happiness.

Longitudinal studies have all indicated that individual happiness depends on connections with others.  However, the happiest individual does not have the most Facebook friends.  Each person has their own discrete need for connectedness.  Person A may need one hundred connections, while person B may need two. Of course, some individuals are happiest completely alone, but that is the topic for another post.  Most of us need some sort of healthy connection with others.  Single people can have wonderful connections, while some married individuals have terrible connections. It is all about the quality of the connection, not the type of connection.

Healthy connections can only happen through bilateral cooperation.  How many individuals expect the other connection member to meet their needs, or how many co-dependents assume all responsibility in a relationship?  

A sense of self is critical.  Self-esteem doesn’t mean that you are some sort of narcissist.  It means that you believe in your abilities and understand your limitation.  It implies that you know that you have equal worth with every other human on this planet. It means you can say no to demands you deem inappropriate.

Realistic confidence parallels self-esteem. I’m not referring to“participation award” confidence. I’m talking about the confidence achieved not only by success but also by coping with failure. Another term for realistic confidence is resiliency.

The ability to empathize is critical.  Empathy is the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is understanding someone from their perspective rather than only your experience.

Kindness is mandatory.  Kindness is not a weakness; it is a strength.  Kindness allows you to extend yourself when it doesn’t serve your needs.  Kindness is an active process and very different from co-dependency or martyrdom.  Kind people can say yes, but they can also say no.  

Cooperation is required.  The ability to cooperate with others is needed in all relationships.  Those who have to win at any cost are isolated and alone.

Basic skill sets are also necessary to function in the adult world.  There is no job beneath any person. If a toilet needs to be cleaned, the successful person knows how to do it.

An appreciation for our role in the greater universe is necessary.  We all have a voice, but there is something greater than ourselves.

Accepting that everyone must be a steward to each other and our greater world is necessary for balance. We are not islands but intimately connected to others and our world.

The above qualities place someone on a path to a successful life.  Naturally, many other factors intrinsic to the person and external to their lives also contribute to one’s overall well-being. Personal health comes to mind.

All of this brings me to thoughts of my children and what an incredible blessing they are.  I have tried to be a good parent but can’t take full credit for their identity. My tireless wife, other adults, and my children’s friends have contributed to who they are.  Importantly, their own genetic constitutions impact them.  This last fact is beyond a parent’s control but likely as important as any other factor.

My kids are now adults, and I have witnessed them as such during this crisis time of Julie’s illness. I could give many examples, but the most immediate are those from today.  Our family has a tradition of making special days special for the honored individual.  My kids participated, but Julie or I have always orchestrated the actual process.

Today is Father’s Day, and Julie remains in the hospital.  This has been very stressful for Julie, myself, and our kids. Despite that, my Father’s Day celebration is in full swing. My kids baked homemade cinnamon rolls for me this morning and brought me breakfast in bed (a family tradition).  They asked me what I wanted for dinner and are preparing it as I write this.  

We visited Julie this afternoon, and everyone pitched in so we could take her around the beautiful Marianjoy gardens.  They knew I liked hiking, so we drove to a forest preserve for a family hike. Each of their actions required planning and execution.  Each required empathy and kindness.  Each needed cooperation and compromise. Each required a variety of skills.

At the moment, I’m staying out of their way, but I can hear their excited conversation and laughter emanating from the kitchen.  

This best Father’s Day is a present to me well beyond cinnamon rolls and cornflake chicken. My children are successful adults. They have taught me how to love. My pride in them is colossal.  My love for them is beyond limits. What more could I want?

Happy Father’s Day

A breakfast fit for a king.
Breakfast in bed.
Visiting Julie.
A hike in the woods.
A world filled with life.