Tag Archives: father

Whatever you’re doing, it’s not enough.

26 Feb

Every so often, my wife makes me read non-fiction books. If she’s read them as well, then they’re pretty good. Then there are the books she suggests “you should really educate yourself.” So reading a book about raising daughters turned out to be an exercise in futility.

Naturally, I want to be a good father to my daughter. She’ll be hitting puberty any day now and it’s important to be prepared for lots of things. So I ended up reading Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Meg Meeker, MD. I mean, after all, she has an MD after her name, she must know something, right? And she does cover a lot of different topics. Things to do, things not to do. How to be supportive, but allow her to independent. Girls are different than boys (I know, radical statement), so naturally how they approach different milestones is different than how I would approach it with my son. Plus, since he’s my clone, I can understand him a whole lot better, because I’ve been through most of the same situations.

But with girls, I don’t have the same experiences, so I read this in order to be ready. After a few chapters, I noticed a pattern. The chapter would start off with 1) Here’s what you do, 2) here’s what you don’t do, but as they get older, 3) something outside your control might screw up all your hard work. For example, a father “is the first man a daughter falls in love with.” Model healthy relationships, treat her with respect and love, show her how she should be treated with friends and family. However, they might fall for a guy who treats them like crap, and this causes emotional scarring that will undo a lot of the work you did before.

Thanks, Meg.

So what you’re saying is “the only thing you can really control is how your daughter perceives you.” Life has a way of taking you places you weren’t expecting to go. (That really should be one of my maxims.) Fair enough. Often when I don’t feel like playing with my kids, when they prompt me, I do it anyway. Because I think of it as an investment in the future. “Remember that guy who took care of you and played with you the first 20 years of your life? You don’t want to throw that old guy out on the streets, right?” 🙂

So putting Meg’s advice aside, perhaps the best advice was one that I read was a post that said, “I want you to have bad sex.” (I wish I could find it.) It was beautifully written, but it was a father writing to his daughter saying, “I want you have all these experiences. Some of them will be bad, some will be good, but I want you to have them all.” So if all I can control is my own actions, then I’m going to do the best with my daughter… but accept I can’t control what happens when she goes out the door.

I don’t wrap her in bubble wrap, but comfort her when things go wrong. I have to accept things will go wrong. That’s the true strength of being a father–seeing your kids go on without you. And the easier you make that at the beginning, the easier it will be when they finally leave.

But I could be talking out of my behind–what do you think? Is there a better book that gives advice to fathers? Is there advice you wish your dad told you? Let me know in the comments below!

What Conan the Barbarian Teaches Us About Fatherhood

23 Jul

When did saying “I Love You, Son” stop being taboo? As guys, I get it, we don’t talk about our feelings that much – makes us seem “unmanly,” but there was a change in my generation in which it started to be okay to tell our sons that we love them. What was the disconnect? Was the taboo always there or did it evolve with our concept of manliness? Of course, we turn to cheesy action movies for our answer.

How did this thought come about? Well, I was watching Conan the Barbarian, the 2011 version with Jason Momoa, and in that version, Conan is raised by a single dad until he’s 12. His mom dies in childbirth in the middle of a battlefield. Badass. Of course, when your dad is played by Ron Perlman, you’re guaranteed to become a badass. But Conan’s dad was a very harsh father, and it’s only later when he inevitably is about to die, it’s only then that he says, “I love you, son.” Then pours a giant ingot of boiling metal on himself.

A very powerful scene and one I really enjoyed, but why did Conan’s dad have to be a dick to him his whole childhood? He was trying to toughen him up? Okay, you’re a barbarian, it’s a harsh world, I get it. But it’s not going to cost you anything to hug your boy every once in a while.

Compare this to the 1982 version with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Conan’s dad is still tough, badass, and still has a heart-to-heart with his young son. This speech is one of my favorites in all of movie history…

Fire and wind come from the sky, from the gods of the sky, but Crom is your god. Crom, and he lives in the Earth. Once giants lived in the Earth, Conan, and in the darkness of chaos they fooled Crom, and they took from him the enigma of steel. Crom was angered, and the Earth shook, and fire and wind struck down these giants, and threw their bodies into the waters. But in their rage, the gods forgot the secret of steel, and left it on the battlefield.

We, who found it, are just men: not gods, not giants, just men. And the secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan, you must learn its discipline. For no one, no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts… This you can trust.

The way William Smith plays him is great. Now this actor is a Korean war vet, gave up finishing his doctorate, and became a B-movie villain. (Funny how life takes you strange places.) Notice that second paragraph, though, as he talks to the eight or nine year old Conan with compassion, but seriousness. He’s also holding five pounds of broadsword as he talks. He obviously cares at the same time he’s telling his son, “You gotta be tough.”

Interesting enough, the tone of the movie also continues into the main plot. The difference between the main villain, Thulsa Doom (played by James Earl Jones) and Khalar Zym (played by Stephen Lang) are also obvious. Both have that sad look towards their work. Doom has been personally learning the mystery of power. Zym’s a single dad who is trying to bring his evil wizard wife back from the dead. When facing Conan father’s killer, Doom is blase: “Really?” Zym takes a moment, but remembers Conan.

In the Schwarzenegger version, it’s the love of his family that was lost is reflected in the blandness of the evil that took it away. In the Momoa version, it’s the toughness he learned as a kid that is reflected in the passion of the evil. Maybe that’s the key – my father certainly wasn’t an affectionate man, my stepfather was more affectionate, but we weren’t a family of huggers. When I went to college and I met my first Italian friend, suddenly embracing someone you love was wonderful! I love hugging people! That contact is essential for feeling good and giving you strength later on.

Naturally, when I raise my own son, I don’t hold back my love and affection for him… at the same time, I try to prepare him for the world he’s going to live in. Compassion should be balanced with toughness, a man can be manly and still not an impassive dick to those he loves. You can cry at movies and be stoic in the face of pain or weakness. There is a balance that one needs to live… and that’s the lesson we need to pass on to our sons.

If you have kids, how do you balance toughness with kindness? Allowing independance versus keeping them safe? Put your hints in the comments below. In the words of Red Green, “Hang in there, we’re all in this together.”

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