Dads are just not what they used to be. Today it is not unusual for the title to have several prefixes such as single, step, at home, or absentee attached. Some of this may be good, some surely is bad. Sadly, too many families and the lives contained within them seem oddly shaped, unstable, and somewhat stapled together. In the midst of all this generational and relational wobbling, how does a modern father hope to cope or, better yet, dare to succeed? Well let me make a suggestion: build a bridge and be your type of dad. Sounds simple enough, right? Let me elaborate.
Men have been under assault in our culture for four decades. Sadly, some practitioners of this have created nearly political and educational movements. Some of the scrutiny was deserved, but the fruit of their efforts has become twisted and dangerous, with the worst effects of this being men struggling to find their footing in life’s fundamental relationships. Marriage, family, parenting, and society all seem to be suffering greatly as a result.
Now I do not presume to propose the cure for our culture’s ills right here and single-handedly. That would be more than a bit vain. I will share three relational insights that have served me well in overcoming my own dysfunctions and becoming an unusual but mostly successful husband and daddy.
My family is a bit different even by modern standards. I have been married for some eighteen years to date. In this time, we have been blessed with seven children. Two are currently teenagers, one is a toddler and four are seven-year-old quadruplets. Now this may sound like a hair-raising (or losing) situation, but, believe me, it is really quite cool and most rewarding. Oh, I am also one of those “at home dads” as well.
I like to get all that out there so folks can see where I am coming from. I am an at home dad of quadruplets plus three. Sounds way out there to most folks. Just not wholly out there enough to get you on “Wife Swap” or “TLC.” Believe me, we have been approached, then rejected mainly due to a lack of dysfunction. I view that as a great compliment.
What has worked for me, beyond the personal faith thing (or perhaps because of it), has been making peace with the past and disregarding the expectations of others. Relationships are always a come as you are party, even if they start as a masquerade. We can pretend we are being just about anything. A great dad, great guy, great husband, and on and on, but the pretending will stop at some point. This is the point at which the relationship founded on our pretend-self falls apart. If a family was resting on that relational foundation, the scene becomes a train wreck.
Now do not get me wrong. I am not saying that all you need to do to get your relational train on track is:
a. Have a one time good old gut check.
b. Forget about the personal oops and stumbles of yesterday.
c. Say to heck with what other people think.
To become the type of man and dad you are meant to be takes a bit more work than that. Past hurts, offenses, and mistakes require forgiveness, some to other people, some from other people and some to us. That can be some real heavy lifting. Just like real time in the gym, the results will show, but the pain precedes the gain. Self-doubts and fear of failure lurk around these corners daring us to pass by. Forgiving, even forgiving ourselves gives some light to pass on through.
Disregarding others expectations does not imply a go it alone “this is my life” Billy Joel-esque reprise. It entails taking responsibility–assessing the situation and the particular season’s needs, in light of the strengths and weaknesses at hand–fully collaborating with only the party involved and implementing the plan that makes the most sense. That means open honest communication. In doing this you will add trust while minimizing the weakness and maximizing the strengths of both partners. You also establish healthy boundaries that block out unneeded noise and those rascally expectations others on the sidelines always have.
That is what a healthy relationship is in my view a bridge. A partnership that supports more relational weight than simple addition and numbers can explain. Like all bridges, it takes real effort and engineering. I contend that if you do these two things and add one last ingredient you will shore any currently crumbling parenting and relational pillars you may have.
So lastly, simply get yourself out of your way. By this, I mean putting your wants, comforts, and self-interests behind the wants, needs, interests, and comfort of the others that you relationally support. So many times, we are our own relational worst enemy. We excuse destructive behaviors as our personal quest for self-fulfillment or realization. We purpose to settle old scores with exes and others regardless of the pain we cause so many. We waste precious time we will not get back playing beat the clock with the graying man in the mirror.
We need to view ourselves as being a bridge for others to cross over. Our instability may mean our kids are delayed or bruised badly on their trip towards adulthood. Our steady and non-self centered efforts may also find them on solid ground. Once on that firm relational footing, they just may have some good memories and great examples to fall back on.
The time will come when they themselves will take their turn as dads, moms, husbands, and wives. We guys–the dads and husbands–are the key to turning the relational decline we see all around us back on the up swing. Our parenting is the bridge to the future. We have to build that bridge, guys. By faith, I believe we can all take our families somewhere well worth going because, lets face it, too many are simply on a bridge to nowhere.
Image by: Davide Guglielmo
Mike Poff is an at home dad of Quads plus three, columnist for Twins Magazine and freelance writer. He and his wife Pam live at the Crest of the Blue Ridge with their seven kids, eight horses, six cats and five dogs. His book “Unexpected Expectancy” is represented by Les Stobbe and awaits a publisher. You can find out more about his rants and antics at http://www.shoutlife.com/profile_view.cfm?uid=81690.