I loved my dad. He was so interesting and mysterious. He had adventure in his heart and did things I wanted to do. He had been to places I wanted to see. Stories of his travels had me breathlessly hanging on every word. I longed for his attention and waited for him to come home - sometimes for hours, sometimes for months, even years. My Dad was a contradiction in himself. He was slight in build but had very strong hands and a stubbly beard. He was a real gentleman, charismatic, very intelligent, and well-liked by most people most of the time. There was just one huge problem, my dad was a raging alcoholic, and he changed into someone else when he was drinking. And it wasn’t pretty.
I discussed learning from my dad in my book, “The Power of Dadhood”. As follows,
“I learned so much from my father. I learned from him that I needed to get an education. I learned that people would judge me by my actions and react to me according to my attitude. I learned the importance of reliability and trust. These things I learned from him because he demonstrated how difficult life can be without them.
Unfortunately, I also saw how dependence on alcohol and drugs could steal my father’s charm and waste his intelligence. Yes, I learned quite a bit about life from my father, but what I didn’t learn was difficult to pick up on my own. Among those lessons missed early on were simple skills and pleasures of standing up straight, manners, confidence, physical competition, love of reading, and being comfortable in my own skin. Yes, my dad graduated from the School of Hard Knocks, but it is not exactly in the Ivy League of Childhood Mentoring. Too easy to get accepted into, his school lacked standards for graduation. “
I worked hard in school and earned a scholarship to college. That allowed me to become an Air Force officer and to work my way out of poverty. But I was still unsure of myself and never stood out. Not until I was in my forties did I begin to flourish, after years of spinning my wheels, by reading self-help books. They do work for those that need them.
I am in a very good place in my life now. But it took me a while to get here, mostly because my lack of self-confidence kept me from taking chances and a feeling of not measuring up to others made me a bit of a loner. Those are heavy anchors to pull around as a kid, and even as an adult. I believe my dad could have helped me with that. My mom was raising six children alone and had her hands full. Beyond that, she’s not a male and I needed a man in my life.
Not all kids would have reacted the same way. Some would have become tougher on their own, others would have never recovered. Fully a third and maybe up to 40% of kids are raised without a father in the home. Those with fathers have a distinct advantage even if their dads are a bit clueless. So a takeaway here is that you, Dad, can teach as a good example or a bad example. If you are lucky, they will know when your examples are not to be followed. The worst case is when they don’t know any better and are misled. Another takeaway is to occasionally ask yourself what you are doing to guide your children. That simple question, asked every so often, can make all the difference. Dads do teach quite a bit. What and how they teach is so very important.
Michael Smith, the author of The Power of Dadhood: How to Become the Father Your Child Need, is the father of three adult children and grandfather of four. He is a retired US Air Force officer and resides with his wife in St. Louis, MO. Michael can be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.