Just like Dad
Reader warning – this may bring up some ‘stuff’ for you.
One of the coolest and most frightening aspects of being a father is that my son, at some point, will want to be just like me. He will imitate my walk. My talk. The way I shave. The way I drive. The way I yell at the driver in front of me (yeah, that happened recently).
It’s a big responsibility guiding a little person into this world. Especially when it’s through my behaviors. Kids typically learn by what they see, not what they hear. Most of the time I’m conscious of it. There are times, of course, when I’m not. Truth is, whether I like it or not, whether I’m ready for it or not, this little dude looks up to me. Now, what to do with that?
Reader warning reminder – here comes some ‘stuff’
I remember some of the things I learned from my father. Some things I liked (working hard, cooking, looking someone in the eyes when you shake their hand). Some things I didn’t like (let’s just say alcoholism comes with a lot of collateral damage). Unfortunately, for me, the bad seemed to outweigh the good. There were times, growing up, when I swore up and down I’d never be like him. That whatever he taught me, so long as I did the opposite, I’d be alright.
This practically became my oath when I became a dad, that I’d be different. I’d be ‘better’. I swore I’d never scream at my kid. Guess what? I did. I swore I’d teach him a different way. But what way? How?
I was brought up the way I was brought up. I know what I know. I have one father experience and that’s my foundation (shitty or not). I overlooked that. I missed the fact that regardless of what I wanted to do, I did some things exactly as my father did. I realize there are books, online material, support groups, therapists. Trust me, I’ve had my share of meetings, therapy and group support. I understand those things give you another way to do things. I believe in these things. I trust in these things. They are great resources for learning a new way. They work.
And yet, the pieces of my past that still trickle out are pieces I (and a million therapists) call ‘triggers’. Those small moments that happen in a fraction of a second that turn my behavior on a dime.
I could be in the middle of cleaning the garage and my son will do something that reminds me of when I was a boy. Immediately, I flash back to being 4 (or 5 or 8). I remember being in that space – the fear, the uncertainty, the chaos. I then come back and react to my son from that space – the space of fear and despair. The problem is, I’m an adult. And having a childish reaction in an adult body has consequences. Often the results are – well lets just say – ugly. My behavior is not in line with what I want it to be. Stuck in the mindset of a child while trying to parent another… yeah, it’s as messy as it sounds.
Of the millions of dads on this planet, I could imagine I’m not the only one who experiences moments like this.
Turns out that’s not the end of the story. I don’t need to be stuck with the behaviors handed down to me from my father. I do, however, need to be acutely aware of them. I need to talk to other people about my experiences. Personally I find support in a group setting along with individual professional support. It’s a hard topic. There’s so much stigma attached to a man who ‘can’t control’ his anger. What I’ve learned is we can’t control it. Time and time again, it controls us. That’s the real danger. It shows up in dozens of forms – physical abuse, verbal abuse, self abuse (over-eating, binge drinking, etc). It owns the part of us that runs around scared and uncertain.
If you’re a man who can relate to even pieces of what I’m writing about, take a breath and know you’re not alone. Take another breath and know that your family and your friends love you. Take a BIG, DEEP breath and know that you’re a great dad. You navigate through life given the experiences you encountered and for that I applaud you.
Sometimes, as dads, we do the best we can with what we have. There are times, though, when our best can only get us so far. It takes a bit of courage, it takes a lot of trust, it takes a ton of humility, AND being a man who is determined, willing and courageous enough to ask for help is the kind of man any son would love to call dad.