Archives > Opinion > Star Staff
There is so much more to fatherhood than mere providing
By Doug Smith, Reminders for the Journey
Today's "reminder" is not written by me, but by a man near my age who has been a great friend for more than four decades. No last names are included in his narrative, but if you know me, you may well know who he is. This is lengthier than most of my columns but is well worth the read. I adore this man and admire his courage:
The Ultimate New Year's Resolution
One dog, Baby, had been attacked by the other three dogs. She died that evening. I knew the potential of one dog to be aggressive and vicious, but never expected "the pack" to cause the death of one of their own. One dog was put to sleep and two were sent to Animal Control; thus I believed I was responsible for the death of four of God's creatures. My emotions were almost uncontrollable and guilt overwhelmed me.
My life changed that day. I could not make a decision about anything of importance, nor make a commitment of any sort. Living day-to-day was a chore. I never thought of creating my own demise, but wondered if this guilt would ever go away. Literally, months went by with no resolution. The relationship with Sandra suffered as well, and is alive today only because of the patience of a wonderful woman.
In August a friend asked if I thought what I saw as a police officer had any impact on my state of mind. I had witnessed many deaths during my 28 years in law enforcement. I had been at the scene of a quadruple murder, the suicide of a 15-year-old girl, and the death of one of our own. But perhaps the most trying tasks were the times I notified parents of the death of their child, the victim of an automobile accident. I remember each and every one of these events. However, I never talked about them with anyone, and I had not thought about how these incidents might impact me.
One morning I called Doug when I realized I was afraid to leave my new dog alone while I went to work for fear that something might happen to her. His words were "Son, that ain't right. Something else is going on with you. Let me make a call to a man I believe can help you." Doug put me in touch with John, a therapist and author of more than 20 books. I talked to John and told him about my situation, including Christmas Day, my experiences in police work and a tour in Vietnam. John's response was, "My best guess, from what you have told me, is that you suffer from anxiety, a great deal of guilt and PTSD. Let's talk and see what we can do."
I went to see John the last of August and spent two days with him in intensive sessions. I told him all that had happened and waited for him to tell why I felt so guilty about the loss of my dogs. In the first afternoon session John asked me what I remembered about my daughter, Casey, when she was 3 months old. I couldn't think of anything. He followed with similar questions about my two sons, Mark and Michael. My response was the same. I couldn't remember anything. Then John said to me, "You don't feel guilty because of the death of Baby, but because you were an 'ABSENTEE FATHER.'"
Those words still echo today. We spent the remainder of the afternoon talking about my absenteeism and why I was that way. My task that night was to write letters of apology to my three children for being "absent" during their childhood.
Not that their mother, Judy, and I did not provide for the necessities of home, shelter, safety, education, etc., but that I was not present during many of the events in which they participated. Judy was always present. I thought I had been a good father ... wrong. John gave me a specific task once I returned home: apologize to my children, in person. The last thing John said to me was that I was very fortunate to have had Baby in my life. He said that her death had been the catalyst that caused me to seek help. He further said that for a man to come to him at my age, asking for clarity, usually was because of the death of a spouse or child.
"Ron", John said, "Baby gave her life for you. Don't let that death be for naught."
When I got home, I called my oldest son, Mark, and told him I wanted to talk to him. He came to my house and I told him about my visit with John. Through the tears, I apologized to him for not being the father he needed. I then gave him the opportunity to respond to what I had said. I expected Mark to say, "Oh, Dad, that's OK," but that was not even close. As tears welled in his eyes and his anger appeared, Mark told me all the hurtful things I had said to him and the missed opportunities during his childhood and as a young man. I had made him feel unworthy. I sat and listened until he was finished. I again told him that I was sorry, but I did not make any excuses or alibis for my actions or non-actions. I realized he was right! I told Mark that I could not change the past, but promised to be a better father to him and grandfather to his youngest son.
Casey was next on my list. The relationship I have with Casey is different than with my two sons. Maybe because she is my little girl. I apologized to Casey as I had to Mark. While her reaction was softer, I knew that I had missed too many opportunities to spend quality time with her. She wished that I had been there for her more often. Casey's most touching statement was, "I've gotten my Daddy back," due primarily, I believe, to our interaction as adults.
Michael lives in the Metroplex, and I met him in Doug's office one afternoon. The process was the same with Michael as it was Mark and Casey. His reaction was "Michael-like." There is not a mean bone in his body, and he never wants to hurt anyone, even his "absentee father." After my apology I asked Michael to tell me what he thought. I almost had to pry it out of him. I got some of it, but did not get it all. I told Michael that I was glad that he, Mark, and Casey had been in close touch with their kids and participated in their activities. His words were, "I didn't want to be like you!" This may be the most hurtful words ever spoken to me, but they were truthful; and I respect Michael deeply for having the courage to say them to me. I believe I have made improvements in my relationships with my kids, but still have a ways to go. It is a work in progress.
Now, you may ask, "What is the purpose of this story?" I hope that you dads, especially young dads, will step back and objectively look at the way you and your children interact and ask yourself: "How many activities have I missed?" Probably too many! My suggestions to you include, but are not limited to, go to every event/game/program in which those precious kids participate. You do not have to see every game or golf tournament "live" on TV. Dozens of analysts will replay them for you, over and over. Do not let your personal trips interfere with family outings. Talk to them about school and their friends. Know who their friends are and welcome them into your home. Don't intimidate them as I did. I could go on and on. REMEMBER, you never know what God has in store for you or them. It may be that God has other plans for your child, as two of my dearest friends, Jim and Donna, can attest. Tell your child TODAY how much you love them, support them, want good things for them. You may be surprised that you are not the father that you thought you were!
An Absentee Father.....Ron
By the way, guys, do the same for that "special someone." And, trust me, she would rather hear how you feel than what you think!
In no way do they represent the view of Starlocalnews.com
Only your Member ID will be posted with the comments.
Become a Registered User