If I (over a scotch and a pipe) were to ask you to shortly and simply define fatherhood, how would you respond?
In today’s society, fatherhood does not mean what it used to. The modern portrayal of fathers on TV, movies, commercials, etc. varies greatly. Some fathers are depicted as severe, sexist, and self-centered – an image of tolerance-lacking bigotry, and used as a counterpoint to the progressive hero/heroine child. Others are depicted as men who see children as an unfortunate by-product of their lifestyle; kids were just thrown at them by a cruel trick of nature, and they have to deal with it. I would say that the majority of dads are depicted as harmless, fat, lazy, couch potatoes who would rather sit around watching football all day than be actively involved in parenting. This last image is likely the one most young adults have pop into their heads if they were asked to define fatherhood.
No doubt there are fathers that fit these examples…however, a gentleman cannot allow his mind to be governed by such stereotypes. Not all of us are called to be fathers, but I daresay many gentlemen who would make great dads shun the notion due to what our society portrays fatherhood to be. And in their defense, how would young men know better? That is my goal with this post – to give my view on what it means to be a father. So, how to define it?
Fatherhood is making decisions in matters that have no clear-cut choice/answer.
Fatherhood is selflessness – putting others’ lives ahead of your own.
Fatherhood is sacred.
To expound upon that last definition, consider the following (for the gentlemen reading who are currently fathers, you will have no doubt experienced these thoughts): a human being, complete with his/her own personality, dreams, desires…that person is in existence because of you. He/she did not exist before, and you, as a father, assisted in the creation of this being. This is why the word sacred is so crucial to defining fatherhood – it is extraordinarily difficult to avoid branching into a religious or a theological discussion when deep-diving into what it is to be a father. This then leads into the responsibilities that inherently follow when one provides a person with existence.
When this person is a baby, he/she is completely helpless and relies upon you to not only keep him/her alive, but to teach him/her everything about the world. Now, thank goodness this responsibility does not fall on you alone and is in most cases shared by the mother (why the institution of marriage is so indescribably important, but that’s a topic for another day). You will be one of this person’s leading figures as they begin to understand the world. Your opinion on any single matter will be this person’s first (and therefore likely strongest) opinion on that particular subject. He/she will learn how to eat from you. How to speak from you. Most importantly, he/she will learn how to think and make decisions from you. In all of these matters, this moldable person will unavoidably begin imitating you – he/she will eat like you eat, talk like you talk, and think like you think. While no child is a blank slate, there is indisputable proof that a significant portion of an adult’s behaviors are defined by their upbringing. And this fact demonstrates the frightening responsibility a father has.
I do not by any means intend to scare you off because of the incredible obligations of being a father. If you are right now thinking “I’m not ready for that”, well that is certainly true. I wasn’t ready when I became a father. I am still not now. It is one of the unchanging truths of mankind that not one person has ever been ready to be a parent before having a child. Parenting, in our case fatherhood, is quite literally nature forcing us to “wing it”. The only way to be fully prepared to be a father is by jumping in and becoming one. Again, not all of us are called to be fathers. But those of us that are – we absolutely have the ability to be good fathers – so long as we do not take the responsibility lightly.
We must be humble, yet confident. Humility; is achieved by accepting that we are fallible human beings who will never be perfect…yet fathers must still maintain confidence. Confidence that as long as we keep the right priorities (starting with the somewhat sappy but nonetheless true priority of love), the children entrusted to us will be just fine. Fathers must be strong, yet selfless. Strength is making the tough decision when you know it’s the right thing to do. Very much related is the selflessness exemplified in buying a minivan when you want a muscle car. The great power of fatherhood is paid for by the great responsibility of putting one’s own wellbeing behind those whom you brought into the world. As long as you are prepared to commit to this type of mindset and lifestyle, fatherhood is right up your alley.
And that, esteemed gentlemen, is what I believe it means to be a father.