It's a concept.
November 10, 2007 11:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of things your father or another's father (could be fictional) have done that changed how you think of Fatherhood. These could be particularly courageous or despicable things, or they could be simple day-to-day things.
posted by Pants! to Human Relations (28 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
This was about my mother, not my father, but -- she apologized to me, on her own initiative and many years later, for not responding to my request for help as a teen. I will always remember this simple act, and it remains very meaningful to me.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:38 AM on November 10, 2007

My bonding experience with my dad has always been one of two things. Surfing mainly and hiking.

There is nothing like visiting him still and heading out to surf before the sunrises. Usually no one is out, its just us watching the sunrise from the water and than catching some waves for a few hours. We may only say a few sentences to each other in three hours.

Anyway, what I learned from surfing mainly, but also hiking is that for a father son relationship it is rarely what is said. Truly it is what is not said.

This is by far the best time I ever get to spend with my father.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 11:50 AM on November 10, 2007

My father taught me to never want children.
posted by Solomon at 11:52 AM on November 10, 2007

I have not seen or spoken to my father in over 14 years... which is more than half of my life.

Maybe if he'd picked up the phone at some point I'd have a different opinion, but from where I sit- fathers are completely useless.
posted by MiaWallace at 11:57 AM on November 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

My dad left to "find himself" when I was three. We had a fairly close relationship when I was a kid in spite of the miles between us, but as I got older and had children of my own I came to feel that it was an incredibly selfish thing to do. I have had a hard time forgiving him. I think it definitely influenced my choice in a spouse and has made me appreciate my husband's commitment to me and our kids. Not to sound sanctimonious or anything, but we work hard to keep our little family together.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 12:02 PM on November 10, 2007

As yet another person who was -damaged- by some of the things her father did, and who didn't speak to him in the last 4-5 years he was alive, I nevertheless have to say that there were things my dad did in his life that had a tremendously positive impact on me. I couldn't list them all but here are two, briefly:

- The first "death" I ever encountered firsthand was of our pet goldfish, when I was about 8. I was an INCREDIBLY sensitive and neurotic kid, and (while I realize this was absurd), finding this fish dead upset me tremendously, to the point where even today I've got this weird fish phobia. I don't think anybody really understood -why- this upset me so deeply - but my dad, even if he didn't understand, he let me -be- upset, he treated me as if how I was feeling -was- valid and okay and not something to just "dismiss." I'll never forget sitting with him in his den that night while we talked about life and death, while he told me all these things -he- thought about what happens to us after we die ... Just having someone treat me like it was okay that I was feeling how I was feeling meant so much, even then.

- Probably around the same time, age-wise, I somehow managed to develop this bizarre fear of showers: for some reason I was convinced that lobsters would come out of the shower head and - I don't know, do horrible lobstery things to me. For a while I REFUSED to take anything but a bath; even just going into the bathroom with the shower stall terrified me - but again, my dad helped me, he didn't treat me like I was ridiculous but rather sat me down to address my fears logically, he drew up a plumbing diagram with the traps and everything, even drew a little lobster in there to show me where they'd get "blocked" even if they tried to get in ... lord, I wish I still had that picture.

There were a number of times like that when I was growing up, when some ridiculous or bizarre thing seized hold of my brain but my dad still treated me like a rational, valid human being - I think that's affected my view of fatherhood tremendously, a dad -should- be someone who's there to help you make sense of the world even when you're not making sense yourself. And in a weird way, the horrible things that came later as his demons caught up with him and pretty much destroyed him influenced my views of people in general: it -is- possible to do unspeakable, permanent damage to someone even if you are or were a truly, deeply good person. People can be fatally damaged and damaging, and yet still be meaningful and good, they can genuinely love somebody but still be so hurt themselves that their hurt bleeds out all over the people who matter to them ...

Eh, well. There ya go, my dad gave me a view of 'Fatherhood' as both a source of love and support and acceptance AND a source of unmitigated pain, I guess overall it's helped me to view people in -general- as far, far more complex than just "black and white" ...
posted by zeph at 12:53 PM on November 10, 2007 [5 favorites]

My dad surprised me when I was in the fifth grade and had gotten my first pair of roller skates. This was back in the Dark Ages, when roller skates were metal contraptioins you strapped onto your shoes and you needed a skate key to adjust. My dad, who was about the most stodgiest, cantankerous human you could find not only showed me how to use a skate key, he actually strapped my skates onto his own shoes and proceeded to not only roller skate, but also skate backwards and do a few jumps. Mind you, considering his overall demeanor, this was akin to Queen Elizabeth engaging in a seed-spitting contest. I never knew my Dad could roller skate, much less do fancy maneuvers.

Months later, when the Summer weather and school vacation made it favorable to skate outdoors (instead of in our basement), my friends and I found the freshly poured concrete sidewalk one block away the perfect surface for skating pleasure. There was one cranky homeowner, however, who would regularly run out of his house and yell at us, saying that we were scratching "his" sidewalk with our metal skate wheels. I happened to mention this to my Dad one day, and the next afternoon he took my skates, fastened them to his shoes, and deliberately skated back and forth in front of Angry Man's house, muttering under his breath "Let's just let him TRY and tell me not to skate here...." That was probably the first time I thought of my Dad as being "with" me rather than against me.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:59 PM on November 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

My father used his fairly limited relational skills (his mom died in childbirth when he was a young boy and his father left the family a few years later) to raise us 5 children into adulthood. Each of us has been marked in certain ways by his "fathering".
I determined fairly early on (maybe by age 5) that I would not be as emotionally insensitive. I've achieved some gains in that area, but still seem not to practice forming deep lasting friendships. Born facing the depression years, Dad's answer for most things was "keep on working harder." I saw him toil dawn til dusk (and beyond) many years to support his own family. Even though he sustained a crippling injury (loss of an arm) when I was 3 years old, I never heard his bemoan the loss. I did not realize he was "handicapped" until some 30 years later. To me he never was, since he could still outwork just about anyone I knew.

He taught me that to be a good father was to accept responsibility - even when it is costly or hurts - and seek to provide for your family.

I never saw my own father help out around the house. His domain was the world outside, and my mom's domain was the house. But another father I observed made a great impression on me. A bunch of us (soldiers) were visiting that 2nd family and after a muddy soccer game had pretty much made a mess of their bathroom/bathtub. The father, himself a high-ranking retired soldier, could easily have "ordered" any one of us to clean up after ourselves. Instead I found him on his hands and knees making the bathtub and room shine again. His comment to me was that he did not want his wife to have to clean up after us and that he was glad to serve us all in this way. I learned that a powerful, authoritative figure can show great love in how he chooses to serve. I've heard it said that one of the very best things you can do for your children is to love their mother. That father demonstrated that to me in a way that still moves me some thirty years later.
posted by tronec at 12:59 PM on November 10, 2007 [5 favorites]

My dad had a fairly flexible but at times unpredictable work schedule. As much as possible, he was home for lunch when I was going to junior high a few blocks away from the house. It was a simple thing but it made up for all the times that I had band concerts and he couldn't be there. I cannot fathom what it's like to have a dad that works 9 to 5 and I wouldn't trade the missed concerts for getting to spend time with my dad every day. My husband has a similar job and I hope he can one day do the same for the little one that is on the way.
posted by wallaby at 1:22 PM on November 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

My dad thought he was being an excellent dad by working his ass off for years on end, rarely home, but providing for the family. I would have preferred a father who was around more, drank less, and wasn't stressed out to the point of irritability and exhaustion. When my dad was interviewed for a technology magazine about what he was planning to do in his retirement, he never once mentioned his family which I thought was pretty telling. I have had to learn things about my dad by reading about him -- including here on MetaFilter -- because he almost never talks about himself.
posted by jessamyn at 1:28 PM on November 10, 2007

My father was odd. Alcoholic, physically and sexually abusive. But he also was politically progressive, a mass transit visionary, and much revered at his memorial service earlier this year.

Before the funeral I was afraid that I was going to get up and say "You think he was a great guy but let me tell you what he was really like." However, when my turn to speak came, this is what I remembered about him.

When I was about 11 years old, he and I used to go on long walks late at night all around the city where we lived. At one point we wound up on what was then called "Skid Row". Going past what appeared to be a flop house, I asked him :is this where the bums live?" He immediately got very serious and said "Don't you ever call them bums again , they're human beings."

Despite my mixed feelings about him, that still impresses me.
posted by Xurando at 1:51 PM on November 10, 2007

Jessamyn's dad sounds like my dad. For a lot of my life he was Mr. Business and our relationship was distant - he would leave for work before I got up in the morning and get home late in the evening. I lived with my mom for a lot of years and we would just have these occasional stilted phone conversations and yearly visits through my teen years.

When I was in college my grandmother passed away and I couldn't make it to the funeral. A few months later I was visiting when someone was talking about my grandmother at a family dinner. Having not really processed the death yet, I ended up getting up from the table and quietly excusing myself - no big drama, I just said I had to get something and went up to the guest room to be alone. My dad came upstairs a few minutes later and asked if I was ok and came in and gave me this huge hug, and told me that if I needed anything, to just let him know.

It really blew me away when that happened, because my dad was never in my life in tune with how I was feeling, and if I was ever upset, he'd usually take a "stiff upper lip," "tough it out" kind of approach. For him to do that was a big deal, even though it was a really small thing to do. A few months later, his father passed away and I saw him in a vulnerable state for the first time in my life. Since then we've gotten to know each other as people. We still have our stumbling blocks, as we're very different and don't always see eye-to-eye, but I've come to see him as a person and less of a mythic "parent" figure.

I've also realized that when he hears about a problem my siblings or I have, he always tries to figure out a way he can fix it for us. When I was younger it annoyed me because it was like he had no sympathy - he just took this immediate pragmatic approach to try and find the solution and if he couldn't come up with one he'd get frustrated and ask why we were talking about it. I realize now that that's just his way, he wants to swoop in and be the hero, and if he can't, he feels powerless. I think he realizes much more now that what his kids need from him isn't a provider or leader, but just someone who is there for us. I'm glad that we've managed to get closer, because things could have easily gone the other way at several points, where we stopped talking for long stretches of time.
posted by SassHat at 1:56 PM on November 10, 2007

I watched my Dad spend the last five years of his life taking care of my Mother as diabetes slowly ravaged her body and spirit, while also caring for my mentally disabled brother. This involved hours every day of changing pressure bandages and dressings on her ulcerated feet and legs, and administering various circulatory treatments, plus bathing her and helping her with an invalid's necessities, as well as doing the shopping, the cooking, the washing, and the other errands necessary to keep a family going, as well as handling my brother's medications, appointments and related care. It wasn't the life he wanted, as a young man, but he came to value it, and the love of his family, more than the life he could have had, otherwise.

Never a great student (he dropped out of high school and later struggled to get his GED while in the Navy), he was still a life long reader, patiently and slowly puzzling out the meaning and ideas in a wide array of books that came his way, particularly off the bargain tables of stores, and later, in boxes he'd buy at garage sales, with 20 pounds of hard backs, for $2. Still, he had a deep respect for the written word, and he kept at it, and didn't waste much time on fluff, and gave away many books to those less fortunate, any time they showed interest. Out of the hundreds of books he left, I found only two in which he inscribed his name, as if they, among all the others, were not to be lost in lending, or misplaced. One was Hemingway's "The Old Man and The Sea," and the other was Sinclair Lewis's "It Can't Happen Here."

He also taught me that people learn in many different ways. For my father, reading was never a primary means of instruction. He needed to watch someone do something, and then try it himself, to really get the hang of a thing. As a result, he was a great one for "showing you something," even though setting up and conducting a demonstration could be more time consuming and less informative than a well written and photographed reference manual. But he didn't much care how you came to understand something, as long as you could show you understood it. It was no good to quote him theory, and cite references, unless, when called upon, without reference to other materials, you do a procedure, in well practiced rhythm.

Finally, he came at the end of his life to a deep, simple, and nearly singular religious certainty, that was both far beyond mere faith, and yet admitted that others should retain their doubts and uncertainties. The strength of his faith was heartening, in the last weeks of his life, as he knew he was dying from lung cancer, so much so, that even those around him who were not believers, believed that he was right to believe. There was a simple elegance about his face then, which replaced any care or fear, and he really knew somehow, that he'd be joining my Mother, who had died just 6 weeks before. And that was fine, by him.

And finally, he died with tremendous courage and dignity, from a disease which robs most who have it, at the end, of those qualities, just when they are most needed. He remains a quiet example of courage and love to all who knew him, and he is much missed.
posted by paulsc at 2:19 PM on November 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

There are a couple things that come to mind.

When we used to go on vacations when I was little, like to Disney World, or even to visit a relative on the west coast, my dad would never come. I always assumed it was because he didn't want to, but it wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that he was the one who made these vacations happen so that my brother and I would have wonderful memories of my mom. She had been battling cancer since I was two until she passed away when I was 9 - and my dad who was a police offer worked between 2 and 3 extra jobs at a time (security guard, etc) so that the rest of his family could have good times together. When I realized to what an extent he sacrificed his own time with his wife and children as an adult, it really hit me how selfless and kind he was as a father. He took protecting my brother's & my childhood very seriously - as his top priority.

I wish I had realized as a child that my dad wasn't being stand-offish or that he didn't WANT to stay home from all the vacations to work.

The other thing that comes to mind is the first time (and any time) I saw my father break down and cry really changed my view of him from a good-natured but tough police officer guy to an actual human being.
posted by tastybrains at 2:40 PM on November 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I was learning to drive, my stepfather told me that the most important thing to remember was "take care of your passengers."

This was, obviously, a life lesson and not just a driving lesson, but it made me contemplate what an exceptional driver he's been.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:01 PM on November 10, 2007

When I think about my dad I think about our long walks to the candy store on Saturday mornings when my dad would talk about history or science - encouraging my curiosity. He told about my mom taking him to the accadamia in Florence to see the David before I was born and how it changed him.

Here is Homer Iliad IV

He stretched his arms towards his child, but the boy cried and nestled in his nurse's bosom, scared at the sight of his father's armour, and at the horse-hair plume that nodded fiercely from his helmet. His father and mother laughed to see him, but Hector took the helmet from his head and laid it all gleaming upon the ground. Then he took his darling child, kissed him, and dandled him in his arms, praying over him the while to Jove and to all the gods. "Jove," he cried, "grant that this my child may be even as myself, chief among the Trojans; let him be not less excellent in strength, and let him rule Ilius with his might. Then may one say of him as he comes from battle, 'The son is far better than the father.'
posted by shothotbot at 3:49 PM on November 10, 2007

Grrr, I meant Iliad VI. Here is a link to mitigate my nitwitness
posted by shothotbot at 3:50 PM on November 10, 2007

At my father's memorial service last week many, many people--his colleagues, children of his friends, members of the family--came up to me and told me how much they had valued his wise advice, counsel and help. Several used the word "mentor". It was clear he had been hugely important in helping to shape many peoples' careers and lives.

My father never gave me any advice. Well, once that I remember, and it was (a) dumb and (b) wrong. Instead, he worked hard to form me into a tiny version of himself and when I rejected that, seemed to lose interest in me. And I will resent that till the day I die.
posted by Hogshead at 3:53 PM on November 10, 2007

My dad was our school's first Room Father.
In the USA, many elementary schools have (or at least had) Room Mothers, mothers of kids who volunteer to come in on special days and serve punch, hang decorations, etc.

It was weird and a little embarrassing at the time, but looking back that was pretty cool, and it really changed my notion of fatherhood.

This was the early 1980s in small-town Ohio, and my dad is no liberal, progressive alternative-parenting type (he's a Christian Republican). But to me his desire to be involved with me in that way reflects, I think, a cultural shift that was taking hold. Definitely a step up from his father' parenting.
posted by Rykey at 4:47 PM on November 10, 2007

My dad surprised me by changing. Until I was 16, he drank excessively, spending most nights at the local tavern or sitting around the house with a 40oz wrapped in a brown paper bag, watching TV, chain smoking and making sexist, racist jokes. He would let his stupid drunk friends come over, and when they would make inappropriate comments about me and my body, my dad would just laugh, and do something like smack me on the ass when I walked by him. He spent most of his paychecks at the bars, causing me and my siblings to have many dinners of nothing but oatmeal. He never took an interest in anything I did, never spent any time with me or expressed any genuine affection. When he did talk to me, it was to tell me how embarrassed he was by me and all the things that I did.

When I was in high school, he decided to quit drinking and started going to AA meetings. He also started started seeing a counselor and got help for his PTSD and mental health issues.

He's completely different now. He's been sober for almost 20 years. He has made a valiant and successful effort to become a better person. We can actually have respectful conversations and he cares about how I'm doing. He gives hugs. He is an excellent grandfather to the children of my siblings. I'm happy for the way he turned out, but sometimes, I see how kind and protective he is with the grandchildren and I feel a little bitter, knowing that I missed out on having him as my parent while he had those qualities.
posted by pluckysparrow at 5:06 PM on November 10, 2007

My Dad got addicted to drugs and has spent the last year or so on and off them. The five or so years before that, we've spent dealing with his bipolar disorder and inability to keep a job, along with, I now know, more drugs and different ones.

I should say, maybe, that this is pretty much in the present. I'm 18, and my dad has been in various states of non-... selfness, I suppose, on and off and for various reasons, since I was 11. What I know of my dad's true self is cobbled together from his lucid patches and the things he's told me when he was high? something? that he probably shouldn't have told me. I've seen my dad stripped bare over the last year and a half. I've seen him bitter, angry, angsty and whiny like a sullen teenager, hopeful and almost manically optimistic, apologetic and self defeating, self destructive... I don't know if I'll ever be able to have a normal relationship with my dad again. I doubt I'll ever respect him again.

He's made me realize that anyone can hurt you, and that no one is going to take care of your feelings and needs, in the end, except you. My family has imploded in the last two years. I've had to learn to rely on my own resources.

My dad got out of rehab a few days ago. This time, he says he realizes what he's done and he says he's going to make things better, that things are going to be ok. I don't really care, anymore, what promises he makes. I know things probably aren't going to get better, although they might I guess. That's ok.. I know I can take care of myself now.
posted by MadamM at 7:38 PM on November 10, 2007

The day before I turned 18 I mentioned to my Dad that my "big one" was coming up. (At least it was big in my mind then). He didn't look away from the TV but said, in a flat tone of voice, "Yep, it will be great. I won't have to come get you out of jail anymore." Then he looked up at me, winked and said, "Good luck." with a serious smirk on his face and a dead stare into my eyes.

I thought about that for a long time. I never got in trouble again.

There was also another time that comes to mind... I came home from 8th grade with my report card in hand. I had all A's and a B. I mentioned to him that my friends got cash for their good grades- all I got was pat on the back. He told me he didn't pay for good grades. They were mine. If I wanted to make bad grades and be a screw up I had every right to do so.

I never made too many bad grades.

I guess nuggets of wisdom come in various forms. My Dad was just good at making me think about it with out having to point it out.

I think that makes for a great Dad in my mind.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:54 PM on November 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

My own father believed very much in personal sacrifice for the family good. He worked very hard, very long hours in boring, difficult jobs in factories to give his children a better life than he had in the Bernardo orphanage growing up (he wasn't an orphan, his parents couldn't be bothered with raising him). Even when he had to move to the Arctic to find work in the nineties recession/depression he kept in very close daily contact with us (this was pre-internet days, a time when a long-distance call was a rarity and very expensive). Even now, as an adult, I know I can turn to my parents for anything and they would give me the shirts off their backs for me.

I was shocked when I met my friend's parents and discovered his wealthy father with privileged upbringing would not help him financially in any way (including even taking him out to dinner or buying him a loaf of bread) when he was literally starving, and too ill to work. When my friend told me he ate only peanut butter sandwiches (one a day) and clamped his mouth closed when drinking his milk to prevent drinking his weekly supply in one gulp my heart broke. The idea that a father would think a "life lesson" was more important than helping their child in genuine need has forever coloured my feelings towards his parents (although he is close to them and seems to bear them no ill-will). Fortunately, my friend has learned his "life lesson" well and treats his own children like the most important, precious things in the world to him. They can drink all the milk they want.
posted by saucysault at 8:03 PM on November 10, 2007

Just a few tidbits about my dad that have changed my ideas of fatherhood:
(1) I remember as a little girl being told by some boy in school that 'girls couldn't play with trucks because they were a boy's toy'. My father took time to teach me about cars and mechanics and other 'boy toys' because he felt that nothing should be off limits to anyone.
(2) If I was ever in trouble, he was willing to drop everything and help. I was drugged at a party once (unwillingly) and he came and picked up my (at the time) unconscious self without any questions of recriminations.
(3) He taught me about money and how saving it is the best thing ever.
(4) He understands that knowledge can sometimes be elusive and that research solves all problems in time.
posted by sperose at 10:01 PM on November 10, 2007

Just about the only vivid memory I have of my father:

I was maybe 5 or so and had a habit of taking cassette tapes and ripping out their magnetic insides and then draping the tape all over the living room. My father came home from work and discovered that the latest casualty was one of his favourite tapes.

He took me to my room, opened the drawer that contained my clothes, and asked me which one of them was my favourite. I didn't have a favourite outfit at the time (I was 5!) and didn't know why he was asking. In the end I think I chose some article of clothing at random, and he asked me whether I would've liked it if he threw it away.

When I think back to this episode I wonder if that's where I got my semblance of consideration-for-other-people from. I also appreciate that he chose to do that instead of punishing me or yelling at me.
posted by nihraguk at 4:10 AM on November 11, 2007

While this is mostly false, the concept of The Wheel did exist for a summer and pretty much typifies my father's approach to parenting - concerned yet distant. He loves his kids and wants the best for us, but has never been very sure how to express that.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:50 AM on November 11, 2007

Another literary father:

"Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?
posted by shothotbot at 7:33 AM on November 11, 2007

There was one specific thing my father did when I was younger that pretty much crystallized our relationship for good; everything that's ever happened after that has been affected by it, and it spilled over into my relationship with my stepfather too. So I guess you could say it affected my view on fatherhood in general.

Long story relatively short: My parents were divorced from my very early babyhood, so he wasn't much of a presence in my life beyond birthday/Christmas cards. When I was about 10, I decided I wanted to know more about him, so I wrote him a long letter telling him all about myself and asking some questions about what he was like. It was the only thing I'd ever asked from him, and it seems to me that the bare minimum of being a father should be that you can take a few minutes to answer a letter from your child one time in your life. Instead, he had my stepmother write back to tell me he was really busy and didn't have time to answer, but she'd answer what she could. She did give me some of the information I'd asked about, and sent some pictures, but I was never able to forgive him for not answering that letter himself.

That was pretty much when I gave up on fathers, and really on older male authority figures in general. Ever after that point I had problems with male teachers, male doctors, male therapists, etc. I've made some efforts toward overcoming that as an adult since it's obviously not every old man's fault that my father was a dick. But it's still something I struggle with, and I trace it back to that stupid letter.
posted by Stacey at 3:43 PM on November 11, 2007

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