For some time, I have been pondering the role of a parent, specifically that of a father. What defines a “good” father? What is a “successful” father? Can one be a “good” father but not a “successful” one, or are they synonymous?
Note: I fully recognize the unbelievably difficult job of being a mother. However, not ever having any experience in being a mother, I cannot comment on motherhood in an experiential way, except to say that my wife, Beth, is the absolute best mother I have ever seen, and I am grateful to have partnered with her in the raising of our children. This post, therefore, is specifically about “fatherhood.” Additionally, understand that this post is not about how my children turned out, good, bad, or anywhere in between. This post is strictly about how a father measures success.
Previously, I have mentioned my buddy John who texts me with verses, thoughts, and so on. He recently sent me this quote from John Fuller:
So, if parenting aims at helping our kids succeed in life, what’s success going to look like …
…True Success isn’t a list of accomplishments.
…There’s something deeper to true success, something more substantial. Something harder to achieve, harder to measure, but long-lasting and deeply meaningful. I’m talking about intangible but ultimately significant qualities. Things like honesty, loyalty, integrity, compassion, and character.
So, what is success, as it relates to being a father? Assume that a child turns out well, and the father has worked hard to be a good provider, father, dad. Does that father take any credit for the way the child has turned out? What if the child turns out poorly, or goes in a life’s direction that the father sees as less than optimal? Is the father then a failure? Is a father’s success tied to how the children turn out? Or is his success independent of the “outcome” of his child?
I was blessed with a fantastic father. Not perfect, but a good man. He showed me discipline, love, and I learned a lot about how to be a man by watching him. My Dad died in 2000 at age 80 (The jerk. I miss him every day). He loved to tease, laugh, and devoted his life to his family. How his children turned out (pretty good in my opinion) is irrelevant, I would rate him as a “successful” father. If I am a good man, if I am a success, I would think that my success is at least in part due to my father’s influence.
My Grandmother, his Mother once made a statement to me. I have no idea what prompted this; I wasn’t in trouble for anything that I can remember, I hadn’t done anything wrong that I remember, and no one was angry with me that I remember. Yep, I had to put in that “remember” qualifier. Being in trouble was not unheard of for me.
Anyhow, my Grandmother said to me, “It would kill your parents if you ever wound up in jail.” What? Grandma, what in the world are you talking about?
My parents trusted me, and I grew up with incredible freedom. I also grew up with a huge sense of responsibility. Heck, I didn’t want to be responsible for my parents croaking, so even if I was inclined to not care about crime and punishment, I sure don’t want to end up in jail and watch my parents die from shame…
I think that at least partly, that sense of duty carried over into my job as a husband and father. I worked hard to be a good father, and to raise my children as spiritual beings, responsible, mature. Although far from perfect, I worked to be consistent, and honorable. I want my children to know that I was the same on Friday night as I was on Sunday morning. I was no different at church than I was at home or at a party.
So, with that understanding, am I a successful father? If I have a child that becomes a Nobel-winning scientist that discovers the cure for cancer, I would be widely hailed as a fantastic father. But what if a child of mine becomes a notorious serial killer. If my parenting were identical, would I still be considered a successful father? I imagine not. Does it not seem likely that under the serial killer scenario, I would be considered at best a “good” father, but not a “successful” one? And what if they weren’t a serial killer? What if Martha Stewart were my daughter? A financial success, great business woman, intelligent. And a convicted felon. Successful father? How about Julian Assange? Founder of Wikileaks, publishing tons of classified material for whatever reason, and (in my estimation) guilty of the potential death of a number of service men and women, and clearly someone who has severely weakened American security. Successful father? Who decides? Is it the father, the child, society, family, who? What about the child that makes poor decisions, puts themselves in a bad situation, and suffers because of those choices, even if taught to know better by their father. Is that father a failure?
Is a father’s success based on their child’s choices and adulthood?
I have believed for a long time that if one’s children do not turn out well, that father is useless, and a failure. But is that accurate?
The answer, I think at least in part, is that society decides the success and failure of a father, based on how a child turns out as an adult. Further, except in extreme examples like the serial killer scenario, various sub-sets of society will measure a father’s success or failure on two things. First, how did that child turn out, and what kind of choices did they make? And two, does that child’s choices and outcome fit into what that particular sub-set sees as positives?
This is further complicated by the sub-set’s notions. Assume I am I Assange’s father. There are those that consider him a hero, so to that sub-set, he would be a success. However, I would likely be viewed as a “bad” father, or a “failure,” if my conservative mindset were known. If I were a liberal, that same sub-set would see me as a success, and a good father.
So. Although this is somewhat in contradiction to my measurement earlier of my own father, I think that in the end, “successful” father and “good” father must be measured separately. With this viewpoint, one can be a “good” father, but not a “success” if the child turns out poorly. I think that, for me, a man should not measure his worth and value based on how the child turned out, but in how he did as a Dad. I think a father can be, and should be proud of his kid(s) when they turn out well, but that doesn’t make him a success. What if the child turns out poorly? If the father did a good job, he should be content with that and love his child as best he is able. What if the father did a poor job? It’s never too late to mend broken fences; it’s never too late to become the man one should be.
Are my children “good” people? Good for them, they made good choices, their life is theirs, not mine. Are my children not “good” people? I am so sorry, my children, you have made poor choices, and are paying the consequences. Either way, it is not my burden and not my glory. I love my children more than life itself, and I wish them happy, productive, spiritual lives.
Basing one’s success as a father on how the child turns out will, I think, lead to one of two mindsets. If the child turns out well, pride would be difficult for a father to avoid. But it’s not his triumph; it belongs to the child. On the other hand, if the child turns out poorly, the father can become broken-hearted, and despair may result. Either way, I would say, “Father, let it go! It doesn’t belong to you!”
I reflect on my life as a Dad, and as I said, I was far from perfect. However I am a good judge of character, effort, and ability. And from an objective point of view, I have done a good job as a parent, as a Dad. And with that, I should be content.