The Father of My Children
When I fell in love with my husband, it was love at first sight. We shook hands in greeting and I was electrified by his touch. We met each other’s eyes and I fell hard and deep. I was not thinking about whether or not he would be a good father. He was handsome, strong, intelligent, loyal and truthful, and not particularly introspective, which was a relief. I was sufficiently introspective for both of us, and then some.
My children sometimes wonder about the differences between us, my yin to his yang, and ask, “Why did you marry him?” especially after he revels in teasing me with some comment or action that we all know I will disagree with or when is excruciatingly logical while I swirl in my anxious emotionality. After the glorious and passionate first phase of infatuation settled down, there was a compelling sense of belonging together, that we would be good partners. But nothing prepares you for parenthood. Except, perhaps, a desire to do it better than your own parents.
One area of commonality between us was that we both were children of undemonstrative fathers. The dysfunction was different and the effects were different, but one outcome was that we were united in our desire for a close family in which he would play an involved role. Because I worked full time, there was no other way. We set out to raise happy children who feel loved. We taught them to cook, ski, read, play tennis, knit, tell jokes, dance, nurture plants, enjoy music, watch movies, sail, value family, be alone, ride a bike, practice yoga, taste food, listen to their bodies, be responsible and diligent, write, figure out math problems, and know when to play hooky so as not to get the perfect-attendance award. If my husband was the go-to parent for dessert and tv-watching, playing sports and fixing things, I was the go-to parent for feeling comforted and for taking care of the day-to-day schedule. Together, we complemented each other well.
There is a new book out, Do Fathers Matter? by Paul Raeburn, that reviews all the recent science about the impact of fathers. Apparently, and incredibly, it is only recently that fathers have been acknowledged to have an impact on their offspring. Ask any person and they will be able to comment at length on how their father affected who they are, for better and for worse. In our gut we know that a wise and supportive father can lead to a confident and happy adult and that a judgmental, abusive, or absent father causes lasting damage to the psychological well-being of that person, and even that person’s children. A healthy and happy father can offset the effects of a mother’s depression. An involved father can delay the onset of his daughter’s puberty and sexual initiation. Certainly a nurturing father must be a crucial component of raising sons with emotional intelligence.
As we prepare to celebrate my daughter’s graduation from high school this week and transition her to college this August, I am spending this Father’s Day (and beyond) feeling grateful that I fell in love with a good man who complements me and loves our children (and me). While we have both passed on to her all that we love and all that we value, we are learning to let go and trust that we have given her all she needs to make good decisions, to love good people, to try new things, to find her own way. We will hold hands as she crosses the stage to accept her diploma. I will cry. He will swell with pride. Together we have nurtured an amazing young woman.