Road Signs for Success – June 4, 2008

By Paula Lau

As Father’s Day approaches I was reminded of one of my favorite family stories. My father, Bill, was assembling a bicycle for my sister, Elizabeth, when she was around eight or nine years old. It was shortly after Christmas and as he sweated, grunted and tried to figure out the almost impossible directions his frustration would build to a climax at which point he would swear and throw the wrench across the room. Liz says of that day, “I would wait until he threw it and then he would yell at me to go get it and I would run and get it as fast as I could.” After several award winning tosses my sister’s bike was assembled. This was a typical “dad” story for our family. These stories often involved my dad trying to help us in whatever way he could even though (a lot of times) he didn’t know what he was doing. Inevitably, there would be a generous amount of humor thrown in as the story was retold.

I think that if you ask most dads they will tell you that a lot of the time they don’t know what they’re doing. Being a parent is an adventure. Children do not come with an Owner’s Manual. And the crazy thing is that each child is unique and different in their own way, creating an even more complex situation to address in life. As a young child and teenager I never really could figure out why my dad seemed so tense all the time. I now recognize as an adult and parent just how tense and scary raising children can be. And my dad, along with my mom, raised seven! It is in raising children that we become so aware of our own shortcomings in a dramatic way.

So on this Father’s Day remember that being a perfect father is beyond the scope of any man. There are just too many variables in life and in individual personalities for a perfect relationship to exist. The importance of the father-child relationship should never be negated or minimized. As a counselor I know too well, how this relationship fundamentally and dynamically alters one’s perception of him or herself and the world. When a relationship has been severed between father and child for whatever reason it often times is the work of therapy to restore that which has been broken as a result of this disconnect and there are usually no easy answers.

However, that said, the best fathers know how to connect with their children in important ways. I believe that a father’s role in a child’s life is to give them a sense of adventure and provide a safety zone in which the child can learn their own limits. Baseball Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew relates 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.’ And he would say, ‘We’re not raising grass, we’re raising boys.’”

Fathers have an excellent way of seeing the big picture, understanding what’s important and, more importantly, what is not. A father can give his child a love for learning, or sailing, or theatre. He can teach his child how to be mover and a shaker, a team player and a friend. His importance as a guide can never be underestimated.

If you were blessed in this life with a good father or someone who stepped in and was your father, remember him this Father’s day. Make sure and tell him what it was that he did get right. Thank him for showing you the big picture and for being your dad.

And Dad, even though you threw the wrench — we appreciated that, in the end, you put the bike together for us. Thanks for the ride!

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