Thursday, June 7, 2018

Becoming a Father

There was one moment in my childhood when I knew without any doubt that my father loved me.  I was very young, perhaps 3 or 4.  I was experiencing a terrible asthma attack, which later that night resulted in my landing in an oxygen tent in the hospital.  I couldn’t catch my breath.  My mother was holding me, trying to sooth me.  I remember the pain on her face.  But I looked over at my father and he was crying.  I have a vague memory of our interchange.
“Daddy, why are you crying?”  
“I hate watching you go through this.”
From that moment on, for my entire life, I have known that my father loved me.  
I have had the opportunity to observe many men become fathers.  We tend to focus on the changes in a woman as she becomes a mother.  However, watching a young man grow into a father is amazing.  Fatherhood is a task that lasts for your entire life.  Yet, there is a transition that happens in men when they first become fathers.  It’s different for every man, but there are some common experiences.  
The first experience is an overwhelming sense of responsibility.  Becoming a parent forces you into the next generation.  The immense importance of parenting a child is frightening.  Most men welcome the opportunity and take pride in this obligation.  Unfortunately, I have known many men that run away from the role.  
As a little boy, I remember when our farmer died.  My mother put a notice in the paper about his passing.  We knew very little about him, other than that he was a bad alcoholic and a good farmer.  We didn’t think he had anybody in his life.  However, at the his service his wife and 13 children showed up.  They only lived  30 or more miles down the road from us.  
Men learn how to be fathers.  They may copy their father’s style of parenting.  Other men from a less nurturing environment may choose to do the opposite of what their father did.  Boys without fathers readily in their life will have to learn how to be a man from other role models: teachers, uncles, other adolescent boys.  Without a positive role model these men often experience difficulty with the father role.  
The most significant experience in becoming a father is the love you receive from your child.  Children multiply the love in the home (and they multiply the chaos).  Their love is infinitely valuable on a multitude of levels.  Just as it changes women into becoming mothers; men are transformed by love.  Children are masters of love, they teach love.  Letting love in is an experience that grows and develops as we mature.  A smile from your child is one of the most coveted experiences in life.  It blesses you and heals you.  It allows you to recognize that the heart is infinite.  A child’s love is healing and empowering.  Perhaps because of the purity of a child’s love, we finally accept that we ourselves are loved.  
Furthermore, a father also has to set boundaries in accordance with mom.  He has to be her teammate in parenting.  Fathers need to learn how to say “no.”   However, they then risk losing all that love from their children.  A grown up father can love the child enough that saying no comes from a loving place and saying no can be said proudly.  I was once told that until you have heard your child say, with all the passion they can muster, “I hate you,” you haven’t earned your stripes as a parent.  

My father showed love by supporting me, putting a roof over my head and showing me what it means to be a man.  But the moment that he had tears for me was the most powerful way he showed me love.  Knowing he loved me has often sustained me during the times in my life when I didn’t love me.  

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