For those who are familiar with Christian scripture you are aware of the idea that children pay for the sins of their fathers (and mothers). Even taking religion out of the picture there are books of studies on how nurture (or lack of it) affects the lives of children. As a father and a dad this idea worries me. Although I am constantly alert to things I can do that will possibly make life better for my children I know that I have weaknesses (both known and unknown) that may possibly make life harder for my children? This seems so unfair.
I think of my own parents and see if I can attach any of my current troubles to them. It turns out that while certainly imperfect my parents were pretty good. In my memories I received nothing but love and encouragement from them. So what of their imperfections? Their imperfections came out of the human inability to fully understand another human being. There were times when even in a family of seven I felt alone and misunderstood. In this I know I am not unique. There were times when I needed encouragement and got a reprimand. There were times when I needed sternness and got only blind love. There were times when I needed guidance and got only “let’s talk later.” Are these condemnations? Not at all. I am the Dad now and wonder how my parents did as well as they did.
My children rotate around me like satellites, each in their own sphere and yet attached to me. Like most dads I love each of my children until it aches. They need me, my time, my resources. I am willing to give them everything I have and yet, as my parents before me, there will be many times I will fail. As I move about among my children I am always watching and listening. A son comes home from a youth gathering and I can see he is almost in tears. A daughter calls me ecstatic from school. Another daughter comes out of the bathroom with heavy black makeup. Another son ignores my pleas to let me sleep and manipulates me into wrestling. Another daughter is throwing up in a bucket.
There is so much data constantly flowing in that needs to be analyzed and a response formulated. I have many wonderful success stories I could share where I got it right. I probably have even more failures—some I am aware of and many others I am ignorant of. I know my children have thoughts I have never considered. They have had bad experiences I am unaware of. They have come to me in need when I have missed the signals and the opportunity to help. I can only hope that I will get enough right that they will be able to forgive me one day for what I got wrong.
I think of the movie “Splendor in the Grass” with Natalie Wood. Her parents loved her dearly, but were limited in their ability to communicate with their teenage daughter. During one very real crisis in their daughter’s life all they had to offer was, “Drink your milk. Always drink lots of milk!” She actually ends up in an asylum where she learns much about herself and comes out with the strength to face the world. Her mother (a good woman), on the other hand, hasn’t grown as much and still endeavors to manipulate her daughter’s life in a well-meaning sort of way. Her daughter is now fully aware of her mother’s weakness. She kisses her mother with complete love and tenderness forgiving her wordlessly and moves on in her life. Have I done that to my parents? Can I hope to receive this from my children? I know on such behavior rests the hope of the world.