In the Suburbs / Good dad, bad dad: Reassessing fatherhood
With Father's Day upon us, I've been thinking about my efforts as a dad over the past 42-plus years. There's so much I could have done better.
Don't get me wrong. We have two beautiful, intelligent daughters who both have made something of their lives, and I like to think I had a part in that.
But I can't help thinking I could have done more or made better decisions. I suppose a lot of dads feel that way, including those who should be on top of the world. I guess that comes with the territory.
I believe that one of my biggest shortcomings was agreeing to moves or living arrangements that had significant ramifications for the girls.
In one case, we moved when our older daughter was stepping up from elementary to middle school.
Suddenly, she was not only in a new place but in a new school. As parents, we assume that all will be fine, but that's not always the case.
When we were living in Reading, Pa., my wife was accepted to a dental hygiene program in Philadelphia -- 50 miles away. A daily commute was out of the question, so my wife got an apartment near campus and the girls stayed with me in Reading during the week.
That decision gave me enough grief and guilt for a lifetime. Our older daughter managed the adjustment well, but our younger daughter -- just 6 and starting first grade -- had a terrible time with it. Every day when I walked her to school, she cried. Sometimes she didn't stop crying until just before bedtime.
When I had to travel for work, it was a worse nightmare. I couldn't ask my wife to skip classes and come home from Philadelphia.
After months of searching, I found a compassionate and competent lady to stay with the girls when I was on the road. Sometimes they stayed at her home.
But we lived for the weekends, because just having their mom home was terrific for the girls and for me. But my guilt never really went away.
Another of my perceived shortcomings as a dad is not always being able to give the girls as much as I'd wished financially.
They were never demanding. But they'd often talk about wanting to see a New York musical or just spend a day in Manhattan, and I couldn't afford to let them go as often as I would have liked.
So I'd ask the girls to create a wish list of places they'd like to visit. We'd set a date far in advance, so dad could save up. Then, we'd eventually do an activity from their list. Even though we eventually went somewhere, I just wished I could have done it sooner.
Another shortcoming I've lamented -- one I'm certain I share with many dads -- is my inability to protect my girls from any humiliation or failure.
The reality, as I've come to accept, is that no dad can protect his kids from everything. Kids facing emotional pain from things like souring friendships and unraveling relationships are out of any dad's control.
Over the years, I've always been dogged by regret for things I've said in heated moments. After some angry, name-calling marathon, I've tried to calm down, take a step back and ask myself how I might have handled the situation differently.
One particular screaming match with my older daughter comes to mind. She had trashed the house after I had forbidden her to see an abusive boyfriend.
I said things I never thought I'd say. When she stormed out of the house, I thought she'd never come back. But she did.
Thankfully, my daughters have forgiven me for a lot of my shortcomings, and we have wonderful relationships today. Some of my guilt remains, but that's my problem. And my kids tell me every Father's Day, with a card or call, I really haven't been such a bad dad after all.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com.