I believe that seventies daytime television talk shows made me a better father.
About 7 years ago I experienced the most wonderful, life changing event. I became a father. To adopt my son I had to go through a series of interviews, psychological assessments, court appearances and I had to fill out what seemed like hundreds of forms. Part of that process included writing down information about my childhood, about my parents and about what kind of father I hoped to be. I had to write out what things my father did that I would do as a father and what things he did as a father that I would not do.
I knew that like my father I would be fairly even tempered- if my son needed to be disciplined I would do that but generally like my father I too would be easy going. I knew that it was not in my nature to be as outgoing and friendly as my dad but I hoped that in a quieter way I might be as so many people described my father a “genuinely nice guy”. I knew that like my dad I could be a good listener just in a different way. My dad took that skill to an unreachable level. I can’t remember anywhere that we went where my dad didn’t sit down with a total stranger and shortly thereafter know enough about that person to write a short biography. The thing each year he looked most forward too was his family reunion, where he had the chance to talk to and more importantly listen to the stories of what changed over the past year in the lives of his sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews.
When it came to the page on the adoption form about what I would not do that my father did as a parent – I had a few ideas for that as well. I promised to never curse at the television set as if my yelling at an electronic devise had any possible effect on the outcome of a football game. I promised to never go on a road trip with the windows down and then spit my chew tobacco out the front window so that it might land on the lap of an unsuspecting kid in the backseat. I promised to give in as nature caused my hairline to recede rather then increasing the length of my comb-over.
When I was filling out those adoption papers I knew that like any family my son and I would not always get along but like my childhood family I knew we would somehow work out our differences. My childhood family has never been particularly affectionate or found it easy to say the words “I love you” out loud to each other, but we always knew that we did and do love each other. Through my dads actions we each knew that he was proud of us. You could see it in his eyes when you looked at the pictures of him with us and our own children. When my son is an adult I hope that he too will be able to look back and see that I like my father did what I believed was the right thing to help him become a confident and caring man, a good listener and genuinely nice guy.
The above was an excerpt from the eulogy I recently gave for my father who was a genuinely nice guy and a good listener; but he came from a generation where telling your kids that you loved them and were proud of them didn’t always come easily.
While dad was sick over the past few years each of us got to know him in a different way. It surely never seemed that any good could come from his sickness but in someway it did – it brought us closer to him and to each other. While I know that through our actions he could see that we each loved him I only wish I had found it easier to say the words out loud. I love you Dad.
As a child of the seventies I spent a good bit of time watching Phil Donahue and other afternoon television talk shows. They helped me see that saying the words out loud changed things dramatically. The words “I’m proud of you” and “I love you” have profoundly affected the kind of relationship I have with my son as compared to the relationship I had with my father. I can’t know for certain how this connection will develop over the years as my son enters adulthood but for now I see the blessings that comes from speaking the words rather then keeping them locked in your heart.
I love you Son.
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