Tag Archives: what is a father?

What is a father?

I am not exactly the best person to answer this question, but in light of the points made in my previous post regarding the main character of Inside Llewyn Davis, I’d like to offer a few thoughts.

Being a father is a financial obligation, of course. A father should see that his children are cared for in terms of their basic needs. It’s wonderful when the man can take care of the mother’s financial needs too, but she often works herself and sometimes makes a bigger portion of the money needed to support the family. Does this make a man less a father? No, but it does mean that he can’t rest on his laurels and consider his job done. This may be a good thing, because being a father is an obligation of caring which is demonstrated in a variety of ways.

GrandfatherMy grandfather was a large man with a bigger heart. Every morning he would ask if we had slept well and try to engage us in a little conversation. In the evening, he would ask if we had enough to eat and if we needed anything before going to bed. As he watched us grow (he had 14 grandkids), he tended to our individual strengths and habits. I was studious, often reading at his house, so he would bring me water and remind me that mental activity needed hydration. When I showed interest in the restaurant business, he took an afternoon off work to drive me around town and share his perspective on various eating establishments and what contributed to their success.

These may be little things, but they reveal a man who paid attention to his family and tended to it. Incidentally, I never heard my grandfather raise his voice. His presence was already big; he didn’t need to. He had our respect because we knew he cared and we were frequently surprised by how much he understood about us. He was paying attention.

Now I realize it’s easy to romanticize a grandfather. I’m sure he made mistakes in his day, but in an age when men are often excused from certain parenting duties because they don’t “multitask” well or because their wives are becoming so financially competent, I think of him as a fine example of a father who pays attention to the needs of his family, does his best to see that they are met, and doesn’t avoid the unpleasant issues. (I could add to this picture my husband’s spiritual leadership, as well as positive aspects of my own father’s parenting, but that will have to be another post.)

When I think of fathering in today’s world, I get angry at the media that portrays kids being terribly rude to their parents, dads in particular. After my daughter, as a young teen, watched certain sitcoms, there was a noticeable decline in her attitude, making the job of parenting much harder. I mention this to say that there are outside forces that threaten to tear up any family in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, which reminds me of another adjective a father should have to his name: protective. It is right for a father to protect his children from unhealthy influences when it is in his power to do so; he is not the bad guy for enacting rules and restrictions. While we are in a phase of permissive parenting, I am not necessarily advocating going back to the belt strap, but something in between: discipline that is firm (not negative and demeaning), that includes teaching, that matches the offense, and that is even creative. More importantly, I am proposing that disciplining be thought of in terms of protecting: protecting a kid from harming himself or others. Thinking in this way may clarify some of the confusion that perpetually surrounds the topic of discipline (and I offer the concept to anyone who wants to run with it).

In summary, this is my charge: a father is not someone who is distant or aloof; he doesn’t play ignorant and excuse himself from problems that are uncomfortable, but rather, he pays attention and stands at the ready to care for and protect his family as needed.