As long as I am talking about parenting, it would be shoddy of me not to cast a little more light on the tenets of what fatherhood means to me, especially at this time of year. Of course tenets is too strong a word for any manner of parenting, which should be flexible and give with the priorities of the moment and the needs of the whole and not center on one individual, but just imagine if every father funneled each decision they’d ever made with a mind toward the sustainability of their children’s future how much kinder and gentler the world would be. And precisely because of this and because any attempt on my part to break practice down into theory rings of both lecture and boredom, I do this at the risk of highlighting my own shortcomings, of which there are many, especially related to parenting and family. But with diabetes in the family picture now our understanding of how actions today affect what happens tomorrow takes even greater meaning. This is not drilling for dinosaur bones we’re talking about, but life and death.
Some of what I learned about being a father came from my own father, an often cantankerous yet warm-hearted man who over his life taught me little in terms of parenting but whose example of hard work and resilience I carry with me always. Because he had few close male friends, or none anyway that he brought around the house, I seldom had other real life men to watch and learn from and one day imitate in my own decision-making as a father. There were coaches and father’s of friends of mine, but not any I ever really watched with an eye toward their principles on parenting; and the most influential teachers I had were women not men, which contributed to my parental make up in very substantial ways.
But this is about being a father, not a parent. So as a boy my patriarchal design and aspirations were influenced by other, less-actual factors. I would love to say that more came from books, than from television or the movies, but I grew with the onset of televised drama and sitcom, so there is probably more Charles Ingalls in me than Atticus Finch; more Cliff Huxtable than King Lear. Fortunately, fatherhood evolves (or we might all still be stuck driving horse-drawn buggies to work, the demise of which is about dinosaur bones, incidentally), and through periods of soul-searching, I find myself occasionally reinforcing or reinventing what being a dad means to me. With Lia’s diagnosis late last year came one of those rising-within-you moments.
With diabetes, there has been fear, worry and frustration. There have been obstacles to overcome, difficult new things to learn, aggravating changes to our day to day lives. But also there has been opportunity. The chance to become closer, kinder, to appreciate more one another; to become stronger, more confident, more determined; to live in each moment. It’s not easy. There are myriad times where it seems endlessly impossible. Where the risk and the cost challenge the theory that all hardship can be overcome with attitude, that less is more, that newer is not better, that to be happy and healthy you don’t have to become a millionaire. That the best things in life are not bought, but given freely.
Diabetes opposes simplicity. There is not just food to consider. You do not just exercise. There is no such thing as just another cookie, or lap around the park, or physical exam. Life is more difficult. It requires harder work, greater attention to things that might normally go unnoticed. The reward of course is worth it. As Geppetto once said to his little once-wooden boy: You’re alive!
But to quote another famous father when his daughter became ill and he was told by a minister that this was chosen by God for some special purpose. Charles said: Tomorrow, I have to tell my daughter that she’s going blind. What shall I tell her is that special purpose?
Being a father is wonderful. It would be wonderful too if raising children was only about teaching them right from wrong, how to be a good citizen, set a good example and point them in the right direction and then step back and cheer them on. It is not that and has never been that for all of time. Being a good father, like being a good mother, evades definition. It is more than words. It is the action of adapting and changing to fit the situation, for himself, but always with the greater good of the family in mind. It is about safety and security and providing and about making this life as hospitable as possible for all. Though it was probably a mother life form in search of a better existence that led her brood out of the first gloopy seas, it was a dad that tamed the jungle and helped make the land a home. It wasn’t easy then and is made only easier now because of their and our other ancestors’ enterprise and ingenuity. And that is what fatherhood means to me.