(For Father’s Day I am posting a piece first published in 2015 by Gatehouse Media.)
After reading an article by Peter Scholl, a forty-something married man with kids, living in Australia, I find myself grateful for the things my dad didn’t teach me. Scholl reflects on what contemporary culture teaches boys and men about their identity, especially in the media.
Scholl writes that when he watches sports on TV, he is confused by how the advertisers and commentators think of guys like him. He says they imagine that he and men like him all wish they were 19 again, and think “the key elements of a happy life are (in no particular order) bacon, having fun with your mates, and beer.”
Further, they portray husbands as “hopeless” men who “can’t be trusted to do the grocery shopping, buy clothes for the kids, or articulately express an opinion when it comes to colour, style or appearance.” And “as a father, you are a joke. Your kids don’t take you seriously.”
He goes on to say that the media represents wives as killjoys and faithfulness in marriage as a sign of weakness or cowardice. The only happy place for a man to be is in a bar, surrounded by friends and, no doubt, 19-year-old girls.
Now it’s true my dad couldn’t be trusted to do the grocery shopping. When my mother was recuperating after surgery, he did the shopping, and I went with him. He bought junk food, any sale item that caught his eye, and the worst tasting off-brand foods ever produced.
And he was, admittedly, a terrible cook. When he got done preparing a steak, it should have been licensed as a deadly weapon. When he tried to bake a cake for my mother’s birthday and the recipe instructed him to “fold in an egg” he was completely bewildered. The only thing my dad could find in the kitchen was his place at the table. He could not have tracked down the baking soda, had his life depended on it.
Yet he didn’t teach my brother and me that dads are a joke. We knew he meant what he said. We saw him break up a violent fight between two men who were trying to kill each other. On another occasion, he apprehended a robbery suspect as he was breaking into the store across the street, and held him until the police arrived. He taught us that dads are courageous.
I’m also grateful my dad didn’t teach us that happiness comes from flirting with 19-year-old girls. I never saw his eye wander and never heard him say anything suggestive about a woman. He remained faithful to my mother until his death in 1996.
It’s true that my dad could have taught my brother and me that the only happy place for a man was in a bar – he drank a lot when we were young. In fact, his drinking caused problems, and brought the family to a crisis. That’s when he chose to quit drinking, to distance himself from some of his friends, and to concentrate on his family. In so doing, he taught us that a dad can do things he doesn’t want to do, but needs to do, for the sake of his family.
I’m glad my dad did not teach me to swear. Looking back on it now, I’m really surprised that he didn’t. He was as tough a guy as you’d ever want to know: a two-fisted Marine, who never backed down from a fight. When I was younger (and he was still drinking), he often lost his temper. Most of the men that hung around with my dad could swear a blue streak. But I never heard him use profanity – not even once.
I’m especially grateful my dad didn’t teach me that believing in God is for weaklings. When my brother was dying of cancer, my two-fisted, never-turn-away-from-a-fight father turned to God for help. His first years as a Christian were sometimes rocky – he brought his anger and pride with him into his new relationship with God – but he stuck it out.
By his example he taught me that a man really can change. He became increasingly attentive and loving to my mother. His confidence in God increased. His willingness to be known as a Christian grew. He became a kinder and gentler man. I’m grateful for the things my dad didn’t teach me, but I’m even more grateful that he taught me this.