By Guest Blogger, Tim Showalter-Loch
When my eldest son was three, he said to my wife, “Mommy, you be mommy and I’ll be daddy…” And then he promptly announced, “Bye, I’m going to work,” and he walked out the front door. That was it. That was his entire portrayal of being daddy.
I was a little shocked. It was a rather odd manifestation of the Oedipus Complex. I laughed, and I felt a tinge of that familiar parental guilt. Was his entire picture of me just a guy who left and went to work? Was I really that kind of dad – the hard-driving executive who wears a suit and tie on the sideline of his kid’s 7:00 tee-ball game, phone in hand, always doing business?
The balance between work and family, and a father’s involvement in his children’s daily lives, though, is an especially persistent question that has troubled fathers through the ages, right?
I’m not so sure.
I actually think my generation is uniquely obsessed with questions about our impact on our children. We wonder what might go wrong if we are not there to control nearly every experience our children have. We don’t seem to trust anybody else. We generally (and sadly) lack faith in our teachers and schools. We don’t trust the companies that entertain our children or produce the food they eat. We are the last, best defense against all of the forces out there aimed at limiting the full potential of our children in one way or another.
And we tend to see parenting today as uniquely difficult, what with drugs, sex, violence, bigotry, the internet, the high stakes of education, and the rest. Parenting today is clearly harder than parents have ever had it before, right?
I’m not so sure of that either.
Regardless, I still feel pressure to schedule every free minute of their time, lest they fall behind peers, or worse, have idle time. And as a father, I feel it is my duty to push every obstacle out of the way, be there for every fly ball caught and post-game treat enjoyed, and more than anything, just not "mess up" my kids by denying them some opportunity, experience, event, or honor.
I think some of this great, but some of it unsettles me.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn as a father is how to let my children make mistakes. I need to let them feel, and therefore learn to deal with, disappointment. I need to let them get into disputes and figure out how to resolve them. Especially when I see them coming, it is nearly impossible for me to hold back. That’s why it’s good to have reminders that keep me grounded, instead of hovering over them. I need to take the opportunity to step back and watch from a little distance.
Father’s Day for me is not about elevating and celebrating my role in my kid’s lives. Quite the opposite, the day gives me pause to stop and admire my kids, honor them, even thank them for giving me the experience of watching them grow up. As Dad, I am important, critical, and even occasionally central in their lives I’d guess. But I need to let myself be cut out sometimes too.
After all, they are just trying on what it is like “being daddy.” And I need to let them walk out that door, and see what it is like. I need to let them go, while I watch from the window, just to make sure.
Tim Showalter-Loch is Vice President of Operations and Communication at Search Institute, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his wife and two sons.