I’ve been thinking a lot about dads lately. There’s no doubt in our society’s mind that fathers are a good thing-in fact, they’re the Cadillacs of the community. We have our nation’s beloved forefathers carved into a mountain larger than the Sistine Chapel. We will refer to a fifty-inch plasma television as the Mac Daddy of TVs. (Well, some of us would.) When men are really feeling on top of their game, they proclaim with pride, “Who’s your daddy?” But for a lot of people, myself included, the question really is: “Where’s your daddy?”
Taking a survey of all my friends and friends of friends, it seems that the majority of them are estranged from their fathers. Some of these men, through no fault of their own, have died. A lot of them are still living, but have died inside: some got lost in alcohol-soft middle age, some returned so shell-shocked from Vietnam or Korea that they receded into their minds while their bodies remained anchored to the La-Z-Boy, others were there in the most physical of ways and turned their homes into torture chambers. And then some of these dads outright abandoned their families for the allure of other women, adventures, or some fantasy of a world without responsibility. Whatever their stories, these fathers dropped out of their children’s lives and left a frayed and nebulous void hovering just under the surface of our psyches like so much fallout after an explosion. The everlasting effects and their oh-so-sneaky ways of sabotaging even the smallest successes in our lives boggle the mind.
Imagine a girl waiting for her dad to come home from work. If he’s in a good mood, she’ll get scooped up in a big bear hug and swung around like an airplane. If he’s in a bad mood, she’ll be picked up by the hair and swung around like a rag doll. She doesn’t know which it will be tonight, but she’s hopeful. And worried. These moments don’t die when the lights go out at bedtime; they create an entire universe of rules by which this girl will live her life. Her inability to trust, her anxiety, her insatiable need for male affection, the bitter jealousies, her self-destructive habits, and lack of confidence have been spawned from this mess and will run her ragged through the years.
Imagine a boy waiting for his father to come home from work. If he comes home, it will be a good day. If he doesn’t, it will be just another day. Tonight he doesn’t come home. Or tomorrow. Or the next day. But on the fourth day he returns to pack his bags and tell his son that he’s to be the man of the house now. Take care of your mother and sister. This boy’s lack of trust, the overwhelming pressure he puts on himself to be everything to everyone, his fear of failure, his neurotic need to fix everything, his uncontrollable angry outbursts, and his heavy drinking have all been set in motion and will propel him through to his breaking point.
What would life be like if everyone had fathers that were good role models too? Surely mothers factor in, but that’s an entirely different article-or library of books. But if we could start with a positive male force that can show up, care, say I love you, ask questions, answer questions, encourage the timid, applaud the courageous, forgive the mistakes, and acknowledge the great, we would be so much closer to happiness.
We would have more sons who know how to start something and follow through, who believe in themselves and aren’t riddled with doubt, anxiety, fear, and anger. We would have more daughters with the confidence to love themselves so they don’t need to force-feed themselves food by the poundful. Would there be any place for addictions and violence if we grew up believing in ourselves, in love, in each other? Maybe we would have less dead-beat dads and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” would be just a golden oldie. Or maybe this is simply the human condition and, for whatever reason, we’re doomed to live in this abysmal state generation after generation. But that’s my doubt and fear talking. Luckily, I also have an optimist lurking beside the nebulous void that remains intact, that has seen the truth and wants more. I don’t know which will win out in this life, but I’m hopeful. And a little worried.