Fathers once removed

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

One of the few satisfactions of growing older is reconnecting and rediscovering old friends. The realization that life, unlike baseball, is a game with a clock has a way of focusing one's intention on the important.

Recently some of my college classmates and I had occasion to exchange thoughts about our fathers. Of course, each of our fathers had his own biography, but we discovered that each carried burdens that compromised and diminished his fatherhood. Turns out the Greatest Generation did not always produce the greatest fathers.

They were a generation of men who were born in the first decades of the 20th century. They endured the Great Depression and survived World War II. The combination of economic want and fear of death scarred each of them. They came to believe in a paternal archetype that measured success by putting food on the table and a roof over the head of their families. Life was linear with not so much time for, and not always interest in, raising children. That was Mom's job. Our dads would not have understood the concept of work-life balance.

Back then, a father's personal daily involvement with his children was limited. A pat on the head for a good report card. A Sunday car trip for ice cream. A week every other summer for family vacation. Our fathers did not change diapers, get supper on the table or minister to their sick children. They loved us, but did not easily show that love. They were strong, but did not play with us. If the building blocks of a parent-child relationship were daily affirmations of love and affection, then the foundation of their fatherhood was shaky. Our fathers, like their TV counterparts, Ward Cleaver and Jim Anderson, were not absent, but they surely were not fully present.

In certain ways, we were better fathers to our children than they were to us. Certainly the role of father as a provider, faithful to his wife and family, was indelibly printed on us, but ironically we learned from their example to spend more time with our children and less at the office, and to see parenting children as one of life's joys, not a burden to be endured.

In a way it's kind of sad that these deserving men could not escape the times they lived in, but such is the way of the world. 

I am consoled by two things: our fathers loved us, and they did the best they could. Maybe that is the most we can or should expect.

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