It’s Father’s Day this weekend.
My daughter, a single parent, is trying to be both a mother and a father to her children.
She asked me the other day, “What does it mean to be a father?”
There are only two things I can say for sure.
One is that being a father is not limited to being male.
The second is that supplying sperm does not make one a father.
Indeed, any male who later claims that merely having provided aggressive sperm gives him a right to control a child’s life should be run out of town on a rail.
I learned about being a father from – who else – my own father.
Sixty or so years ago, when I learned I would be a father, I sought my parents’ advice. Dad was sitting at our dining room table, marking term papers; Ma was polishing silver.
“Be like your father,” Ma advised. “You’ll do fine if you’re as consistent as he has been.”
I was watching my father as she spoke.
At her first words, he swelled momentarily with pleasure. Then he deflated. I suspect he was expecting a more flattering adjective.
Perhaps “loving” or “devoted” rather than “consistent.”
My father was the most open-minded, level-headed, even-tempered person I have known. If I wanted advice, he always listened first. He never made me feel stupid or unworthy.
Even though he strongly opposed gambling, he helped me run off raffle tickets on his office mimeograph (a primitive forerunner of the copying machine).
But his life as a principal, professor and pastor kept him busy.
Sadly, he often just wasn’t there.
I resolved to be different. In some ways I was. I spent far more time with my children than he did with me. We went camping, hiking, cycling. We did community projects.
I got to know various deep-frozen hockey rinks very early in the mornings, and very late at night.
But when I look back with the clarity of hindsight, I think the adjective that would apply to me would be “resentful,” rather than “consistent.”
To some extent, my fathering was defined for me by our son’s diagnosis of cystic fibrosis – hereditary, genetic, incurable and terminal. My wife and I shared two hours of physiotherapy every single day, just to keep him breathing.
I resented that time. I couldn’t use it to advance my own career as a writer and editor.
My daughter, I regret to say, got whatever time was leftover.
“Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect,” the King James Bible admonishes. No, I wasn’t perfect. No father is.
A line from a vintage ABBA song seems more relevant: “Knowing me, knowing you, it’s the best we can do.”
What my father and I have in common, I think, I hope, is that we did the best we could do, in our lives and situations.
I’m still not a perfect father. But I no longer have career aspirations getting in the way of being a better parent. An old piece of folk wisdom says that children are what help their parents grow up. So I keep trying.
Knowing me, it’s the best I can do.
Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.