On Fathering

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I don't want to say too much about this post. These are a series of comments I got last week in the final post about fathers. I think I should leave it at that...

From Shawn:

It's been almost 15 years since my dad passed away and not a day goes by that I don't miss him. But most of all I miss being able to just talk to them. I'm plugging away at a civil service position here in Pennsylvania and I can't help but think back to my dad. He worked for the PA state government, too and I wish like mad I could just vent to him about the absurdities that one encounters when working in such an environment.

I also regret not being able to tell him how much respect I have come to have for him. (This is no small thing as we didn't always get along when I was a teenager.) I knew in my head that he was good at his job but now that I'm in his shoes I know this in my heart. I also wish he was here because of the fact I was beginning to not only know him as "Dad" but as a person. A person who, looking back, was in many ways becoming a good, honest critic, wise counsel, and general sounding board. He had all of those qualities and was also a good man, flaws and all. I wish I could tell him a lot of things.

From M-M-F:

My mother died when I was seven and my father died on Christmas Day. I had left home too early and in a fierce huff because my dad was a controlling brute. We had some very unhappy years.

And then we made up. I forgave him and he forgave me and we spent the last 20 years of his life being thick as thieves. We had the time to enjoy each other, love each other, and have some wonderful trips together. I held him in my arms as he died. I miss him terribly but I am so glad (that word is not strong enough) that we got to be adults together.

While I'm busy comforting myself with memories, here's one that I cherish: My favorite uncle remarried when I was about nine and my dad and I drove out to the airport to bring him and his new wife to town. I had dressed for the occasion so carefully, dress and gloves and polished shoes, ready to meet my new aunt. On the way, we got a flat tire.

My dad decided that this was the perfect time for me to learn how to change a tire. I was steamed because my dress and shoes and hands were covered in black grease after I was done.

Of course, my new aunt was impressed with my work rather than affronted at my untidiness. And, of course, I think of my father every time I change a tire. That man taught me to stand on my on two feet with competence.

From Fnarf:

My dad died suddenly five years ago, and most of the time I'm OK with it, but stories like this push my button. We were just, finally, starting in my late thirties, early forties, coming around to each other -- a journey that was a lot farther for me but maybe harder for him. He was SUCH A HARDASS. Always pushing, always driving, always making me do it over, always calling everything I did not good enough.

Well, damnit, it wasn't good enough; he was right, every time, pretty much; and even though he was too strict and too hard and too locked up emotionally and so on, he was a good, good man, and he carried me for a long long time, a lot longer than I thought at the time. We were just starting to get to know each other when he died. I miss him.

Partly because I'm pretty sure that now, finally, I could probably whip him in an argument! I sure couldn't before.


From BigRedDog:

These posts are indeed fascinating. They hit me so personally that my eyes are welling in liquid. Its because I miss my dad so fucking much. I was 25 when cancer got him - he was 53. He had a shitpot of faults. Gambling, womanizing, etc, but he knew who he was, he had some serious skills (restaurants and cooking) and he transferrred that confidence through to me.

So much that at age fifteen after he kicked me out back to my moms for being a total punk, I decided to be on my own. I talked some girlfriends folks into taking me in, then got my own deal. I paid rent while in high school, played Varsity football, and went on to college to get a degree in Engineering. I did it all on my own financially, but with his unwavering prideful support. I worked my ass for it.

Like you TNC - I was 21 when I found out I was going to be a dad, broke, and long ways away from graduating. He was the first one I called, and he was ecstatic. Only four years longer was he the best Grandfather on the planet. This topic is seriously emotional. He made it to see my graduation---and then 6 months later it was over. I made him proud. He made me proud. And that in the end is probably what its all about between me and my son.

From Astroninja:

I'm 32, and its been 4 1/2 years since my Dad has passed. My father was 41 when he had me, and I am the youngest of 4 boys (making my oldest brother just shy of 50). I bring this up because my father for all intents and purposes was 4 different ones, and his ratio of sparing the rod was different with us all.

He was born to depression era farmers from Arkansas that had moved to California for a better life. Routine beatings that would never once be wistfully remembered was the basis of his relationship with his father, and a painful, complicit silence is all his mother offered. For his part, my father seemed incapable of breaking the cycle. When my brother Steve was a child, Dad would often backhand him in the face over the slightest of offenses. John was grabbed and drug by the arm and often slapped upside his head for a refusal to comply. My half brother David (my mothers first born) never was struck by my father....but perhaps channelling Chris Rock, my father saw nothing wrong with shaking the shit out of him.

John's mother would die of complications to a Lumpectomy when John was 3. My father married my mother and stayed with her for 28 years before he passed. I mention all this, because by the time i was born...my father had exhausted himself of the cycle. My mother believes that he realized he had one last chance, in me, to get it right. Therefore, I can say with a straight face that my father never even looked at me wrong. I was a fairly sensitive child, and once when my father impatiently shushed me, I began to cry. He immediately took me into his arms and tenderly apologized.

He was many things to many people. He was stubborn, melancholy, and more than a little bitter at times. But he was also kind, fair, and bursting with pride at the accomplishments of his boys. These contradictions existed in him, and I am aware that some of them may exist in me. I've been married for 2 years now, and my wife and I are preparing to conceive our first child.

When doubt overtakes me, when I feel isolated by my problems, I often think of my father. I decided a long time ago that I would NOT be the father he was. In many ways I possess advantages he never had. I want to do what he got right with me, but never to commit the same violence he inflicted on my brothers. But simultaneously, I would give anything to pick his brain. To talk to him again and ask, how the hell am I going to get this right? He may not have been an ideal father to all, but he's the one I want to hear from most.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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