Richard Haddad, a resident of Westminster, Maryland, is the father of five children, Steven, Jason, Ashleigh, Jonathan and Erin. Recently retired from a career managing support services in the public and private sectors, he has written on the side – articles, essays, fiction and satire – since college. He also founded – and for five years edited and published – American Man, a magazine devoted to seriously exploring the male gender role and the male experience. Rich’s previous contributions to this blog, letters to his daughter Ashleigh and his son Jonathan written on the days they were born, appeared around Thanksgiving, 2011: http://letterstomykids.org/thanksgiving-guest-columnist-richard-haddad-l
Dear Steve, Jason, Ashleigh and Jon,
Each of you made me feel great a couple of years ago explaining to me in a special Father’s Day letter what it was like having me as a father as you were growing up. So today I want to return the favor and tell you what a great experience fathering has been to me.
As you know, my dad was an immigrant and brought a lot of “old world” values with him when he came to the U.S. at ten years old, including values about the roles of men and women in raising children. Also, since he was about four when his own father died, he essentially grew up without any kind of a father role model at all, old world as it might have been.
So although he was unquestionably a good man who took good care of his family, there wasn’t a heck of a lot of father-son interaction between the two of us when I was a kid, and this was at a time when the Ozzie Nelson and Ward Cleaver television characters were among the models of American fathers.
Maybe understandably, I decided as a young man that my fathering style was going to be a lot more “hands on” than what I experienced as I was growing up. But my “no-nonsense,” duty-driven personality, and the way I saw my role as a parent at the time, were the foundation for a lot of what I did and didn’t do in my first years as a dad.
I approached my role as a father then mostly as a matter of responsibility. I was to be a strong role model, to have an answer to every question, to be rational at all times and not allow emotion to influence decision-making. I also generally stayed away from “mom stuff” – except when asked by mom to get involved. It took me a while to figure out that while setting and enforcing rules and being a good role model and requiring responsible behavior are important parts of parenting, they are not the heart of the parenting role.
The heart of parenting, I learned, is about encouraging and guiding exploration, risk-taking, growth. It’s about nurturing. Being a parent meant that I had to think about how I felt about things that affected you, not just feel what fathers were “supposed” to feel. It meant respecting you as individuals, allowing you to disagree with me and to argue your case on virtually anything, reversing myself when it looked like I had made a bad decision. And when I figured all of that out, I began the most awesome experience of my life.
P.S. – Please see part 4 tomorrow.