This is what I have discovered about fatherhood as a son.
A father is a person that you know well, sometimes too well. Perhaps a father is even that person you helplessly grow into. That way in which you hold the newspaper when you read it? Yes, it’s true, that’s the way your father read his newspaper. You have decided never to worry about money (even as the unpaid bills rise ever higher on your desk)? That, as you no doubt know even if you won’t think about it, is exactly what your father would never have done. In this way, a father is never a complete mystery, for your father is in you. Pride or shame or indifference—whatever your assessment of your father, you move inexorably towards a knowledge of him.
But that is not the whole truth, is it? For your movement into knowledge over the years is asymptotical—you are that curved line that approaches the straight line of your father without ever touching except, as the mathematicians say, at infinity. At a certain point, if events proceed in a natural order, a father dies (as mine did a few years ago), and you recognize what you should have always known, that your curving knowledge, ever bending towards your father, will never make its ordained connection. So you will never know your father after all. Your father will always be an unavoidable mystery.
So much for what I know as a son. And then there is that which I have discovered as a father myself.
To be a father is to encounter a mystery that rivals the mystery that is your father—and that mystery is yourself. There is no handbook on how to be a father. You figure it out yourself, whether well or poorly or indifferently, as the case might be. At some point, your son will become eighteen (as my son will in a few weeks). He will become his own person. You have managed to get him there, to the threshold of adulthood. How did you manage it? There is no final answer to that question. But there are many small answers along the way—answers that amount to knowing yourself just a little bit more.
All life is a bending towards a knowledge of yourself. And you will know yourself, as you will know your father, at infinity.
2 replies on “Fathers and Fatherhood: A Report”
I am a proud father to two lovely kids (now grown up adults in their own spheres). When they were growing up all that I was doing was to try and replicate what my father did, but ensuring that we did not ever practice this, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”
I ensure that I clipped these “imperialistic” tendencies parents portrayed at times when we were growing. I need to give equal credit to my lovely spouse who played her role to perfection. Together we split the responsibilities of bringing up the “kids” with love, care and all the freedom. From their side we should admit the “kids” were wonderful indeed, and didn’t make too many demands on us. Looking back at the times we spent with them it seems like yesterday, but it’s been a long time to actually recall incidents specific or otherwise to share my thoughts on Fatherhood. This is just an attempt.
There is tremendous comfort for the boy who has a strong father, it’s not spelt out, only realized later in life.. The child knows know not but that he is safe no matter what is the truth. He learns as he grows that this is not as true as he thought, but he still grasps an important truth: he has a protector. He thus learns security. He learns trust. He can sleep well at night. His father is attuned to his welfare, and enters the room at night when it seems certain that this is the night that the monsters will prevail.
There is much good in this. As opposed to the boy without a father, the boy learns that he is not alone in the world. There is one by his side who is powerful and can troubleshoot the difficulties of life. Strength, after all, is not limited to physical strength, but emotional. Many, many strong women exist, but the first picture of strength a boy is to receive is that from his father. When times grow hard for the family, the boy watches his father. He sees his father react with character and fortitude, and thus subconsciously develops similar instincts. Mom is strong too, but she cries. Dad does not cry. He is not worried. He will stand strong, and good will prevail.
The boy with a father learns, then, to believe in strength and security. The boy without a father, however, struggles to learn this lesson. In fact, he is not afforded the pleasure of seeing another work out the virtue of strength. He is forced to forge this quality for himself, and from a premature age. When taunted in the playground, there is no resort other than his own strength. There is no father to turn to and seek help from. He must grit his teeth and find his own force. He is weak, and vulnerable, and if he survives will likely grow hard and angry. Fathers provide a security and comfort no fist can give.
What is primarily needed as a father is to ask these fundamental questions and ensure our investment — be it money, time and energy — in all the things we care about, get the right responses – YES.
“Does my son know that he matters to me?”
Your every action should show this
“Does my son know that I love him?”
You would be able to demonstrate this consistently
“Does my son know that what he does is important to me?”
Show him that everything he does is important to you, and then you can show him what is really important — and he will welcome it.
“Does my son know how proud I am of him?”
This boils down to a sons innate need to be affirmed by his father. Your affirmation prepares your son to enter the world with the confidence and “emotional armor” that he needs in order not just to survive, but to thrive. A son needs to know that you are pleased with him, not for what he does or does not do, but because of who he is.
This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, Shankar.