For the first time in our extended family’s history, we went on a weeklong family reunion to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary this past week. Throughout our time together, I recognized the beauty of the five fathers in our family — my dad, my husband, my two brothers and the husband of our long ago German exchange student.
The fact that each of our five families has strong father figures is somewhat remarkable, but a Norman Rockwall portrait we are not. We have warts and, like every family out there, we have our share of challenges, disagreements and plain ugliness. However, this week, watching five men do their roles as husbands and dads with grace, love and caring that went above and beyond the call of duty was a beautiful thing.
Each of the fathers has a signature style — and there are generational and cultural differences to be sure. Nonetheless, their love for their children is evident and seems to have served to create happy, healthy children.
Anyone who has ever tried parenting knows that it is not for the faint of heart and is a constant learning experience. To celebrate Father’s Day, I asked the five most prominent fathers of my life the biggest thing they’ve learned thus far in their parenting journey — and what has made them a better father.
My youngest brother has been a father for about 18 months. He says he’s learned how quickly children learn, how much your life changes and how much you enjoy it. He believes patience has made him a better father.
His wife agrees that his patience makes him a better dad. “Also, he helps more than most fathers do. He changes diapers. He gets up with our son during the night. He gives him baths. He accepts responsibility for everything. Nothing is ‘my job’ because I’m the mother. He helps all the way around.”
Martin, our German friend, who has a four-year-old daughter, said the biggest thing he’s learned is that he can’t really plan things. “If you have a child, she has her own way,” he said. “If she’s not ready, you have to wait. Now, if we come late, which would have been a big problem for me before, I have to just be ok. As a father, I’ve learned that I have to be more relaxed.The last time we came to the States, it didn’t matter which hotel we stayed in. Now we have to plan in advance — on one side, you must plan more. On the other side, you cannot plan anything.”
His wife agrees. She says that her husband is always there for their daughter. “He’s always listening to her,” she said. “Before he thinks of himself, he’s thinking about her.”
My husband, whose daughters are 15 and 11, said becoming a father later in life probably made him more reflective. He’s recognizing, as our daughters grow, their personalities are developing in different paths. Because they’re so different, he has to deal with them differently.
My middle brother has three children, 22, 18 and 14. He said the biggest lesson he’s learned as a dad is much like the one my husband has recognized — each child has an independent personality and is totally different. Even so, he strives for consistency. “I’ve also learned that most things are small stuff, and don’t sweat the small stuff,“ he said. “And one last thing, every now and then, it’s good if your children are a little bit afraid of you.”
My dad, whose children are 33, 45 and 49, said he now believes that you never quit raising your children. “I have learned to look over things that would have upset me at one point,” he said. “I have learned to accept my children for what they are and not what I want them to be. I know they are grown, but still I worry about them and want to take care of them.”
My mom said that through the years my dad has always been there. “And, I never doubted his love for me or the children or grandchildren,” she said. “He works so hard, too hard sometimes — it’s all because he wants to provide for us.”
Having this kind of time to just hang out and be with our extended family was a gift that I believe we will all cherish for decades to come. Happy Father’s Day to each of them and the fathers in your family too.