Happy Mother’s Day!

Most of us have been blessed with great mothers.  And it’s hard to over-emphasize the importance of the roles they played during our formative years.

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It was our mothers who gave us unconditional love and constant encouragement, our mothers who taught us how to read and the importance of saying “please” and “thank you,” and our mothers who were there when we came home from school, making our house a warm and loving place.    It was our mothers who bought the outfits we wore and made our breakfasts and packed our school lunches and snapped the photos that went into the family albums.  In the rankings of influential people in our lives, mothers are always going to be somewhere at the top of the list.

Many of us tend to take our parents for granted.  After all, they were always there, as our mothers and fathers, doing the stuff that Moms and Dads do, and it’s not hard to forget that they had lives before we arrived on the scene.  But they did, and at some point they made the conscious decision to become mothers and fathers and take on a crucial, lifelong commitment that would never have existed otherwise.  Without those decisions, we wouldn’t be here.  As the years have passed, with both of my parents gone, I’ve thought about that more and more, and wished there was some way I could repay them for everything they did — but of course that opportunity has passed.

I had a great Mom, and I’m married to one, too.  Here’s to all of the great Moms out there who are doing the essential things that mothers do to help mold the decent, caring people we encounter every day.  Happy Mother’s Day!

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Thinking About Dad

On this Father’s Day, I’m thinking about Dad.  My guess is that most of the fathers out there will think, at some point today, about the man who played that role in their lives and who provided the personal examples, good and bad, of how to be a Dad.

I say good and bad because there aren’t many perfect Dads outside the black-and-white world of ’50s TV sitcoms.  Dad wasn’t a perfect father, and neither am I.  We all approach the job differently, drawing on our own experiences, aspirations, and fears, and we all make lots of mistakes that we beat ourselves up about.

webnerfamilyphoto3But here is the thing:  the missed baseball game or the seemingly unfair discipline or the harsh comment tend to fall away over time, sent skittering down the memory hole, and the perspective changes forever when you personally tackle the tough, infinitely challenging job of being a Dad.  When you understand how easily parenting blunders can be made, those blunders tend to be forgiven, and a big picture emerges that is a lot more balanced.

My Dad has been gone for many years, and when I think of him now I think mostly of his attitude.  Kish and I often quote, with a chuckle, two of Dad’s favorite sayings — “finding your niche” and “doing your own thing” — that Dad inevitably used, after first clearing his throat with a rumble, when he was told of a child’s decision to follow an unconventional life or career path.  It was a remarkably easygoing attitude for a man who experienced the Great Depression as a child and who was himself highly motivated to achieve traditional financial success, but Dad really meant it. I always appreciated that approach, and I’ve come to appreciate it even more as the years have passed.

There are deeper elements to that attitude, when you think about it.  It is rooted in trust and confidence and understanding:  trust that his kids would eventually find our way to a good and fulfilling life, confidence that he and Mom gave us a sufficient grounding in appropriate behavior that we wouldn’t end up in a biker gang, and understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all path to happiness.  It is a liberating attitude, too, for both parent and child.  The parent isn’t frazzled by constant worry about whether their child will measure up to their own definition of personal success, and the child isn’t burdened by the ever-present specter of parental disapproval about this decision, or that.

Thanks, Dad, for that lesson — and Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there.

The Changing Focus On Fathers

For much of its history, psychology has been no big friend of fathers.  The focus was on the importance of the mother, and fathers were lurking there somewhere in the background as one of the many other influences that could shape a person.

16Several decades ago, however, the perception began to change, and psychologists began to reassess the significance of fathers.  Now, research indicates that fathers play a key role in creating an atmosphere of personal security in which children can gain confidence, in helping children to develop through creative and unstructured play — this means running around, making up games, and doing silly stuff, in non-psychologist speak — and in demonstrating, through their involvement, the importance of education and proper adult relations with others in the world at large.  In one recent study, for example, fathers were found to have an even greater impact on child language development than mothers.

It’s kind of weird to think that psychologists ever diminished the role of fathers; it seems obvious that children would be shaped by observing and interacting with the other parent in the household.  It’s interesting, too, that the shift in perception of fathers has occurred as the number of households without fathers has increased, and statistics are showing that the absence of a father as a permanent member of the family can have lasting negative social and economic effects.  Reality finally is trumping early psychological theory.

None of these studies and discoveries come as a surprise, I’m sure, to actual people.  Kids who grew up in traditional households understand the importance and influence (good and bad) of both mothers and fathers.  Every father I know thinks that role is an important one — although they may wonder whether their judgments are sound and wish there was an instructional manual that provided guidance on how to deal with some of the situations that arise.  The bottom line is, we just do the best we can and hope.

Happy Father’s Day!

Happy Father’s Day!

Today is Father’s Day, and fathers across America will be showered with cards and ties and cologne and coffee cups with “#1 Dad” on them.

It’s nice to get stuff that proclaims that you’re “#1,” of course, but most Dads I know would gladly settle for just getting a passing grade in the cosmic fathering curriculum.  I can’t claim to speak for every father in America, of course, but I suspect most Dads would probably admit, deep down, that they aren’t very confident that they know exactly what they are doing.  We know that there are good Dads, and bad Dads, and lots of Dads in between, just trying to do their best at an important role where there’s no training manual or meaningful checklist.  We’ve observed our own fathers, and their fathers, and seen other fathers, and we’ve tried to borrow what seems to work and avoid what doesn’t — but still we wonder.

So the coffee cups and ties are nice, but I think the best Father’s Day gift is delivered when you realize, as I have, that your kids are good people, decent and resilient, fending for themselves and making their way in the world.