My version of fathering doesn’t fit neatly into the usual categories.
Before my son Owen was born, I decided that I was going to be a great father.
Actually, that’s not quite it: I was desperate to be a great father. I was 32 at the time, and I’d seen enough of life — especially during my three years as a public defender — to have concluded that bad fathers are responsible for most of society’s ills. Abusive fathers, alcoholic fathers, sexist fathers. Fathers who were domineering, or selfish, or manipulative, or distant. Or fathers who just didn’t show up. Their children struggled with low self-esteem, repressed anger, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and depression. They had trouble forming healthy relationships — perhaps eventually with their own children, perpetuating the cycle of abuse.
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I didn’t have a role model for the kind of father I hoped to be. My own father had been wonderful in many ways: responsible, good with money, and organized. He had high expectations for his children, and he could be uncommonly warm and generous. But our relationship had deteriorated precipitously in the years before Owen was born. My siblings and I had just started to unpack the psychological damage he and his narcissism had done.
I would keep my father’s best qualities, and jettison the rest.
My next step was to steal pieces of all the great fathers I had ever encountered, in life or in art. I would have the moral compass and compassion of Atticus Finch, the gruff warmth of my late father-in-law and my maternal grandfather.
Something was missing in my Frankenstein-style rendering of the ideal father. The only person I knew who had all the missing traits was — drum roll — my mother. I would also take her best traits: her emotional intelligence, the constancy of her love, her understanding, and her pure enjoyment in being a parent.
Six years and another kid later, I look in the mirror — definitely older, not feeling any wiser — and I find myself in the midst of a full-blown identity crisis. In our society, a man can be a good father while still…
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