... Or Maybe You Were Just A Terrible Father
No Such Thing As A Perfect Dad
Before cable, kids watched old reruns on local TV; in Denver, KWGN pumped out old reruns all day and well into the night. The Andy Griffith Show, Leave It to Beaver, Eight is Enough, The Brady Bunch, The Dick van Dyke Show ... and let's not forget The Cosby Show.
What did they all have in common? Good dads. Great dads. Honestly, those guys were supernaturally fantastic dads. They never had stressful days at work. Sheriff Taylor never needed a stiff drink after collaring a pedophile. Mr. Brady didn't have meltdowns over his dead wife. Cliff Huxtable ... well, maybe we shouldn't discuss what Dr. Huxtable was doing after hours.
I couldn't stand those shows, especially because positively everything was neatly tied up with a bow at the end of the half hour. A part of me reacted (and still reacts) with spiteful glee when I discover that the facade was truly nothing more than artfully crafted lies, and that truly terrible things were occurring behind the scenes.
The biggest of these lies, of course, is that your parents are good and noble people who can solve any problem. We were absorbing multiple hours of deception on prime-time TV ... which made it easier to accept the noble idea of, say, an elderly, wealthy widower in New York City adopting two black boys out of the goodness of his heart and not because he wanted to diddle them or trade them with his NAMBLA friends.
It looked like a big pile of "WHAT??" back then, and clearly those lies weren't real and weighed heavily on the actors peddling them, as evidenced by their drug-induced meltdowns later in life.
When I compared those families on TV with my own family ... okay, wait! When I compared them with my friend's family, the one that seemed really perfect? Mom and dad still together and still in love. All the kids seemed to be happy and (mostly) well adjusted. And it still wasn't anything like it was on TV.
Maybe It's Just You
I ... kind of get it. You have an ex wife or an ex girlfriend, and you think she is turning your children against you.
Newsflash, though: If you are an amazing father, your child will know. But if you're a dirtbag or just plain strange, your children will eventually figure that out on their own. Sorry.
Do moms badmouth their exes? Yeah ... kinda. But Parental Alienation Syndrome has been thoroughly discredited by both the the psychiatric and legal communities; most allegations of abuse made during a divorce turn out to be true. So the badmouthing is probably restricted to complaints about their "lazy ex husbands" not doing their share of the housework or how they cut their toenails in bed.
Guess what? Your kids will figure out all on their own who was right and who was wrong.
My father was not and is not an amazing dad. He is, however, a MENSA-certified genius. He's a classically-trained cellist. He's an airplane mechanic and an engineer. He can read 5 books in a day. He speaks several languages and has traveled all over the world.
He's also an oddball. He prefers solitude, reading and exotic food. I don't think he ever wanted a kid.
He never molested me, he never hit me, he never yelled at me.
He also never went to my parent-teacher conferences. He never came to any of my programs. He didn't teach me how to ride a bike; I taught myself. He bought me physics books I didn't understand and was disappointed when I didn't turn out to be a scientist. And he missed my high school graduation because he wife forbade him from going.
The nonsense started the summer before my senior year. I was up to speed on my classes, and finally had the option of having one class period free. My stepmom thought that was the worst idea she had ever heard, and ordered me to sign up for trigonometry.
Did I mention I'm not so fantastic with math?
She and my dad had planned a trip to Washington that summer, to visit her sister in Oak Harbor. I was only invited if I signed up for trig. I reluctantly agreed, although I already knew how trig would turn out. So we went to Washington and then summer wound down and then school started again and I started trig and .... guess what? It was too hard! I didn't need it to graduate, so I dropped out.
My stepmother was furious; she refused to let me see my father, and he caved to her demands. She was convinced that I had tricked her on purpose; convinced that I had planned on dropping the class all along. I mean ... I guess I kinda did, since I knew it would be too hard. But I told her it would be too hard.
So ... he skipped my high school graduation. We didn't speak for many years after that, and he has never apologized.
Your Kids Aren't Stupid
So back to that idea about your kids knowing whether you're a good father.
My mother never bad mouthed my father. Never told me he missed paying years of child support payments (he did). Never told me that he didn't want me over there (sometimes). Never made things up to "turn me against him." Never said anything bad about him. Ever.
But she didn't have to.
I rarely went over to his house; when I did sleep over, I hated it. For many years, he lived in a run down apartment in a bad part of town that was infested with ants; they even squeezed into his toothpaste. He worked the graveyard shift, so slept through most of our visits. He never thought about places I might like to go; we usually wound up at MENSA meetings or atheist gatherings, listening to mind numbing slide show presentations on ... something or other. There were never any other kids around; all my relatives, including my grandparents, lived a long way away. I remember feeling very lonely at my dad's house.
Then he married my stepmother, which made the situation worse. Eventually, I tried to forget about him between his infrequent phone calls; thinking on his neglect was too painful. His new wife's house was in a state of eternal renovation, which occasionally gave me good reason to avoid visiting; at one point nothing in their sole bathroom worked, apart from the sink.
I never threatened my mother with going to live with my father; I knew I wouldn't be welcome in Erica's house.
I don't hate him. He is who he is; I would be more upset if I knew he wasn't that same way with everyone else. But he is that same way with everyone else.
We reconciled when I lived in Russia. But even working in Russia in a prestigious American law firm was not enough; he asked me tell his chamber orchestra group that I played bass at the Bolshoi Theater. C'est la vie? No. C'est mon pere.
You're Singing My Song With Your Words
There's a strange sentiment going around this year; the sentiment that not only are all fathers perfect simply because they participated in the act of procreation, but also that Father's Day is being "ruined" by ex wives, ex girlfriends and baby mamas. I'm wondering: When - and more importantly, WHY - was this narrative rewritten?
Father's Day isn't about you or your ex; this is about individuals and their fathers. It is about your kids. I know there are men out there who are great fathers; but my father was not a great dad, and how dare you tell me how to feel about my own father.
In the afterglow of the Cleaver and Brady and Huxtable lies, people fought the system to shatter the myth of the perfect dad and to shed light on their own, very real, suffering. For many decades, the media didn't allow stories of horrific abuse or rape committed by fathers. It didn't allow stories of neglect and abandonment. Of fathers raping their own children; of fathers killing their children's mothers in front of them. Of fathers abandoning their families for younger women; of fathers abandoning their families for no reason.
You want us to say that these bad things never happened to us to further your deceptive agenda; you want us to lie and say that our fathers were not the cause of some of our childhood - and possibly current - misery. You want us to say that our fathers were amazing, even if they weren't.
It's a very selfish and self-serving agenda; "If all fathers are good, that means I am a good father."
It's misogynistic, because instead of taking responsibility for their own bad behavior, men scapegoat the mothers.
And instead of validating the pain these men caused their children - both male and female children - you want those children to suppress their true stories. This is a revisionist, toxic lie. We cannot and will not apologize for the sins of our fathers; how dare you selfishly apply your revisionist ideology to our narratives.
Most of us have long since buried our pain. Now that we are older, most of us have forgiven our fathers, but we will never forget the hurt they inflicted on us. We will not lie about it to serve you. We refuse to swallow our pain for your ego.