It’s been 28 years since my father died and a lot has happened since then. Like being married for almost 20 years and bringing up two boys.
Being a father combined with the recent anniversary of my dad’s death has made me look at my role as a father, my childhood, and the way I behave in a totally different light.
Here are my thoughts (for better or worse) which I hope will enlighten you. And if you’re not a parent, it’s my hope by reading this, you’ll realize what a difficult job being a parent is.
So, you’ll go easier on the parents of crying kids in public.
That Fateful Day
My dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1988. He put up a fight and suffered with grace until he finally succumbed on 20th Sept 1992. On this day me, my mum and my sister went out for lunch for my sisters 18th birthday.
We went to the hospice after lunch not knowing this was the day. He was surrounded by family and love during his final moments. And like some others in the room, I didn’t quite take it all in and left the room feeling numb.
It was the first time I ever saw someone die and even though it was expected, it was still a shock and I didn’t know quite how to take it. The whole thing was surreal, like a movie.
The next day I was sitting on my mother’s couch, still in a state of shock and then she suggested we should go see a movie to temporarily take my mind of things.
The movie was Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Café. And instead of crying, I laughed a lot.
But not knowing how to deal with the death of my dad, the laughter didn’t last long, and the grieving process began.
What Was He Like?
I feel it’s easy to be hard on your parents when you look back on your own childhood. They (at times) stopped you from doing things that you wanted to do, punished you when you did something wrong and made you eat all your vegetables when you didn’t want to.
My father and mother were no different.
He was a car salesman by trade, and he was good at it. He had nice suits, nice cars, and nice toys. Plus, when Christmas and birthdays came around me and my brother and sisters were all well taken care of. You could say we were spoilt.
As kids we had clothes on our back, food in our bellies and a roof over our heads. Not the same could be said for other kids.
However, this all came at a cost. He worked long hours and we would rarely see him during the week. We would go to bed before he got home, and he left for work before we left for school. Whether he didn’t want to deal with us or not, I wasn’t sure.
It was weird not seeing him.
When we did see him, he was often tired, grumpy or he yelled at us and mum. He used colorful language, waved his arms around and slammed doors. Not the happiest of times.
My childhood was a mix of grumpy dad and loving dad who couldn’t do enough for his kids. He told us all time how much he loved us. My father wasn’t perfect, but he did love and care for us the best he knew how.
Sins Of The Father
Being a parent doesn’t come with a handbook or a step by step instruction manual. You make it up as you go long and do the best you can. Although we are all born with some paternal instincts, I feel son’s and daughter’s pick-up cues from their parents, whether they like it or not.
Much like a Progressive Commercial.
My Grandfather (my dad’s dad) worked hard to provide for his family but he treated his wife poorly also. Treated her like a slave and broke his marriage vows.
I’m not sure how much of this rubbed off on my father but it’s not a stretch to suggest he pick up some of his cues in his treatment of my grandmother.
I remember when dad and I were helping my grandparents by cleaning up their garden. It was hot tiring work and we were both nearing the end of our rope. My grandma was showing concern and fussing over us when all of a sudden my father snapped and said.
‘Fuck off Mum.’
All of a sudden, my opinion of him changed. He was rude, impatient and didn’t care about the feelings of others. Plus, I learnt a new word.
It wasn’t a surprise (looking back on this time) he treated my mum the same way and in some respects worse because he didn’t have the greatest role model.
And sometime between the divorce of my parents and the death of my father, I vowed not to make the same mistakes he did. Like it was that easy.
Just Like A Progressive Commercial
This is not an excuse for my poor behavior in the past, but I had no idea how deeply ingrained some of my father’s behaviors had become in my psyche.
And it’s not like I recognized this right away. I had to make the same mistakes over and over again until irreparable damage was almost inflicted upon those closest to me.
Then I realized if I didn’t make a change, I may lose the love and respect of the people who mean everything to me. Besides why should I model bad behavior to my kids? Send them out in the world thinking this is acceptable when it’s clearly not.
Don’t get me wrong. I model plenty of good behaviors too, some which have stuck. But it only takes one weak moment when I lose my cool that screams this is the way to behave when things aren’t going my way.
All the good behavior I’ve modeled then doesn’t mean as much because bad behaviors stick like glue.
Parenting is equal parts rewarding and difficult. I realized it was a lot of monkey see, monkey do because whether you like it or not, kids take some behavior cues from their parents.
When you see your bad behavior in your own kids or others then it’s a wake-up call for change.
Because the buck stops with you.