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Should a Father be His Son’s Friend?

I am not the world’s greatest father and I don’t expect my father to be perfect either.

He overcame many obstacles. His parents were murdered by the Nazis when he was 19. He survived the war, became a physicist and built a new life. He is 89 now. I salute him on Father’s Day.

He was always a father, never a friend. I know the view that fathers should not be friends. “It is the job of parents to see that the [societal] barriers hold,” W. Cleon Skousen writes in “So You Want to Raise a Boy?” (1958, p.232)

My father saw his role as keeping me “on track.”  Since his success was based on higher education, “on track” meant keeping me in school.

I was not allowed to get off the treadmill. Despite the fact I had written a syndicated newspaper column at age 11, he never believed in me, and my good intentions. He always treated me like a loose cannon. I must have given him reason.

After high school, I wanted to work in a mine. Then, I planned to go to an out-of-town university known for its radical leftist professors. (I was a Lefty back then.)

My father exerted great pressure, including the inducement of the old family car, to make me enroll at once at the local university.  I succumbed and fell into a depression. I only completed three of five courses with poor marks.

My spirit broken, I ended up staying at university, at first as a kind of hospice, finally getting a Ph.D. that I have barely used.

On another occasion, I wanted to use the family cottage as a spiritual retreat, a Thoreau’s Walden Pond. Again, no deal. Get your thesis done.

“FRIEND”

I complain he was not my “friend” yet once he was and made a mistake.

When I was eleven-years-old, my friends and I were swiping copies of PLAYBOY magazine from newsstands.

I summoned up all my courage and asked my father for a subscription. He agreed. I papered the inside of my bedroom closet doors with Playmates-of-the-Month. In retrospect, this distorted my perception of women and undermined my future relationships. I believed a woman’s beauty and sex appeal were the Holy Grail.

Nevertheless my father’s response created a major bond for me. I really dug him for it. I wish now he had taught me that I was making a mistake that would ruin my life for decades.  He was doing his best and was no wiser than I. “Sexual liberation” was all the rage.

So here I am wishing for a better friend, and wishing he had been a better father.

Now that he is old, he just sits on the balcony or watches TV. He says he isn’t bored.  Many old men are crotchety but my dad has never been kinder and sweeter.   Happy Father’s Day, dad!

“RAISING BOYS”

Someone said men don’t want children because they’re not finished being children themselves. That’s more true now than ever. We’ve been re-engineered to be perpetual adolescents, part of the war on gender and family. I was a case of arrested development. I didn’t have the knowledge, stability and maturity to devote to marriage and fatherhood.

I left my son’s mom, a feminist, when he was four-years-old. “Now, I’ll have mom all to myself,” he said. (I can’t believe Freud was right about anything.)

I moved just a block away and fatherhood consisted of driving him to school, cooking and playing every sport – soccer, football, tennis, baseball, hockey – on our thrice-weekly visits.  When he was six, he almost blew a gasket when I suggested that the bad guys weren’t really evil; and his heroes, the Ninja Turtles, were being deceived.

My son is now 26. I have tried to be a friend, to believe in him.  I wanted him to become a historian. He took a few courses, was bored silly and became a lawyer instead. He is happy with his decision, and so am I.

The baseball player Harmon Killebrew tells this story: “My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard.  Mother would come out and say, “You’re tearing up the grass.”

“We’re not raising grass,” dad replied.  “We’re raising boys.”

In his book, iWoz, Steve Wozniak, the inventor of the personal computer, describes how he was raised in a traditional 1950’s family. His mother looked after his emotional needs and his father Jerry, an engineer at Lockheed, supported him intellectually. There was no pressure but his father was always there to nurture and teach.

“My dad’s and my relationship was always pretty much about electronics… Dad was always helping me put science projects together…When I was six, he gave me that crystal radio kit I mentioned. It was just a little project where you take a penny, and touch it with some earphones. Sure enough we did that and heard a radio station…It was so darned exciting, I distinctly remember feeling something big had happened, that suddenly I was way ahead–accelerated- above any of the other little kids my age..” (27)

Fathers build men. Fathers change the world.

 

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