An Open Letter to Dads

Dear Dads:

I always ask the boys I work with in psychotherapy the following two questions: “Do you want to be a father someday?” and “What kind of father will you be?” The responses fall into two general, yet distinct, categories. One category is a group of boys who respond positively to these questions. Their responses typically engender feelings of pride and hope. In fact, they envision adult lifestyles and parenting attitudes similar to their father’s. Even when boys try to distinguish themselves as different from their fathers, it is always amazing to me (as I ask more questions), how similar the boys see themselves like their fathers. The second category, and much smaller in size, is when boy’s respond negatively. These boys cannot imagine a future that involves fatherhood and parenting. These boys, typically, have been scarred in some way by abuse and/or abandonment.

Father’s Day is a relatively new concept. Actually, in the United States, it became a recognized National holiday in 1972. By comparison, Mother’s Day was recognized by the U.S. Congress 59 years earlier in 1913. The role of the father has evolved just as everything else in society and culture has. The stereotype of the breadwinning, emotionally uninvolved, disciplinarian type dad does not begin to adequately explain the diversity of fatherhood. Single parent dads and divorced dads. Soccer dads and PTA dads. Remarried dads and step dads. Teenage dads and deadbeat dads. Stay at home dads and 2-3 jobs to make ends meet dads. Granddads and great granddads. Traditional dads and new age dads. New dads and second family dads. Older dads and dads to be. Certainly, it is a relatively easy job to become a dad, it is much more difficult to be a good and decent one.

The difference in dreaming about fatherhood and actually being a father is clear as night and day. There is no definitive direction manual on being a dad. Children, wives or partners, families, and the day to day experiences of life are throwing you Cy Young type pitches every time you come up to plate. The key is–you have to take your turn at bat and no matter what the outcome is, you must be ready for your next one. There is no substitute for personal experience and learning how to keep your focus in order to make contact with “the curve ball.” Being a good and reliable dad, like being a good baseball player, is about being a team player that respects the rules of the game and keeps on batting.

I remember the days my 2 children were born, like yesterday. These 2 days allowed me entry in the fraternity of fatherhood and become one of those honored dads on father’s day. These 2 days are the most memorable days in my life. The euphoric feeling of witnessing a baby being born must be what miracles are all about. This incredible powerful feeling lingers for days and allows you to stop strangers in the street and proclaim, “I have a new baby daughter!!!” Entry into fatherhood deserves bragging rights. Yet, alongside the miracle come changing diapers, changing schools, changing boyfriends, and changing moods. When we stay the course and “keep taking our turns at bat,” we deserve a day off from the game so that we can enjoy the privilege of being a dad on Father’s day.

It has been said that a man can determine whether or not he has been a good father by witnessing his grandchildren be good and decent people. The connective tissue between being a son and being a dad is having a dad that is a positive role model, who is available, and who treats women with respect. To all the dads-HAVE A HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

Be Well,

Dr. G