I grew up watching television relatively infrequently, but as often as I could steal a look. So, not shockingly, whatever I didn’t learn about manhood and being a father from my own dad (who is a fantastic father), I unfortunately picked up from a variety of analog sources. From Ward Cleaver to Mike Brady to Cliff Huxtable, subconsciously I studied, sticking little bits of knowledge away that I’d hopefully be able to apply much later. Fathers had an office in their house. They had important jobs. They were tough, but fair. And they wore sweaters. Very stylish ones, as well.
You can imagine, then, the horror that confronted me when I became a father, and realized that I was nothing like any of those fathers at all. There was no office in my house, where I could look important and mete out important insights. I certainly didn’t feel like I had an important job. In the face of a crying or morose child, I’d fold like a warm tortilla, so tough be fair was not a strong suit. Worst of all, my sweater collection was, and still is… lacking. Television parenting can be rough on real world self-confidence.
I might as well have had the word FAIL stenciled on my forehead.
Last weekend, though, something interesting happened.
My daughter’s 9 year old half-sister asked me, “Do you ever want to be somebody else?”
I told her not really, and she said that she wanted to be like my daughter’s godmother (we’ll call her R) and said that she wished that wished she was R.
Imagine my surprise when I told her that she shouldn’t wish that she was anyone else, that she should be her, that she was unique and special, and she was young, and had an awful lot to do before she could forget about what SHE could do. “You might not realize it now, but this is very important,” I told her, “you have a lot things to do. You have a lot that you can accomplish. Perhaps one day you’ll thank me for telling you that, but you certainly don’t have to.”
Then I turned to her and said one thing that rendered her completely speechless, and shocked me as well, since at this point, I was simply free thinking and had no concept what was going to come out of my mouth next.
“Honey, don’t think you have to be anybody else, even if you admire that person. You are wonderful all on your own. Just try to concentrate on being the best girl that YOU can be.”
“Now, you watch your little sister, and I’ll see you soon.”
Then I left, realizing with pride, and surprise, that this fatherhood thing might not turn out so badly after all. Here was yet another positive step in my parental development. With practice, I think that I can get this parenting thing right yet.
If only I had some fashion sense.