I have been a dad now for more than fifteen years.
I survived the diaper years and the learning-to-walk years and the first-day-of-kindergarten years and even the junior-high years (so far). My reward?
Teaching my 15-year-old-daughter to drive.
We’re in the season of summer where we celebrate the dads among us. Sure, some dads aren’t much worth celebrating. There are absent dads and abusive dads, and dads who couldn’t summon the strength to overcome their own demons and really be a force of good in the lives of their children.
Still, in my work with teenagers and in my own experience for sure — most dads are really great. And, whether or not they are A+ performers, they are enormous difference-makers.
My kids have taken to playfully mocking me when I get off the phone with my dad. They slip into an Ozarkian drawl and mimic my voice. I guess when I talk to my dad long enough, the Salem boy comes back into my vocabulary. Dads rub off like that.
I don’t only talk like my dad. I drink coffee like my dad and walk like my dad and sit like my dad. These are compliments to me, because I think highly of my dad. But it’s even true of people who don’t have the closest relationship with their fathers. We develop our dad’s bad habits. We inherit their insecurities. We unconsciously try to make up for where they lack.
I have talked to many teenagers who lamented their dads’ behavior — and not because they were mad at their patriarchs. Rather, they were just afraid that they would become just like him. They didn’t want that, it seemed. That’s sort of sad, really. Dads should be someone we want to be just like.
Still, the dad as doofus or dad as the bumbling, helpless, grunting mammal trope is a little over done. Tim “The Toolman” Taylor served as the prototype, but you’d think from watching television commercials that if mom weren’t there to save the day, dad would let the whole thing crumble down around his family.
Most of the time, that’s simply not true. The vast majority of dads work really hard, try to stay engaged with their kids in a deep and meaningful way, consider themselves equal partners in the functioning of the home, cook their fair share, and spend very little time doing stuff just because they feel like it. They walk around with a world’s worth of pressure on their shoulders and a secret fear that they might just mess it all up.
A little ashamed of their weaknesses? Maybe. A little timid about putting themselves out there? Sometimes.
But the village idiot? Hardly.
Any regular reader of this column, or any casual observer of my life, will know how grateful I am for my dad. I have extolled his many virtues more than once in this space. But Jim Benton is not alone in his excellence as a family patriarch. There are many sincere, loving, wise, generous dads out there.
They cook and clean and kiss and hug and listen and cry and sweat and pray and leave it all out there, day in and day out, for their families.
Dads, know you are appreciated by so many. You may only have the third Sunday of every June devoted to your honor as Father’s Day, but the other 364 days out of the year, you are admired and loved and influential in ways we don’t say often enough.
Happy Father’s Day, just the same.