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January 17, 2014

DODD: The ‘dad’ complex

CLARK COUNTY — My son will be 19 years old in February. That will mark a yearly anniversary upcoming for this column. I started writing this column in May the year he was born.

It also marks a year that as a father I have felt more inadequate than ever before. I fooled myself sometimes when he was younger. I obviously was able to fool him more back then. I certainly am not fooling him anymore and I am totally honest with myself.

It’s all about control. What control I have now is waning. His world is so much different than the one in which I was 19 years old, in what seems like several lifetimes ago. Life was simple back then. I knew I wanted to get some education and get a job. That’s what everyone that I knew wanted when I was 19.

Back then, all you had to do was be willing to work hard and you could have a middle-class life. It’s not that simple anymore.

Times have changed. Young people have changed. The Internet has changed everything.

Kim was telling me just tonight that an octogenarian had told her co-worker that she was glad to have lived in the times in which she did. She stated she would not trade her life for anyone who is a young person now.

I think it is much harder to be a young person today. I also think it is much harder to be a parent.

People tell me I am a good father. I have done all the things that I think one should do to be one. In my whole experience as a father for 19 years I know I have asked for advice from others, read many books and magazine articles and have done a whole lot of soul searching.

Some of it came easy. Kim and I have shared so many wonderful times as a family with our son. There are moments that will always be captured in old photos and frozen in time.

Then there were the other ones — those that presented the challenges for which you really never knew what to do. Those always brought out the self-doubt and insecurity.

I always thought my father made it look so easy. Even when I disagreed with him or thought him wrong, he seemed to always convey that he was a good father. I never remember thinking him as being insecure or doubting himself. I think that is one of the qualities that a good father has to have. Like the old deodorant commercial slogan, “Never let them see you sweat.”

In retrospect, I think back and know now that my own father was generally right about most things. Perhaps in the times that I might still see him as not totally correct had to do with the times in which he was raised were so very different than those for me.

And, perhaps, dad was just simply better at faking it than I am. Maybe he was alone in his own thoughts wondering if he was right at any given time.

I never gave that much thought until my mother told me one day in church that he told the congregation that he wished he would have been a better father. For me as a son that would have almost been insulting if there had been any truth to it. He was a better father to me each and every day that I experience the role of fatherhood.

I will have to remind myself that it has always been hard to be a good father. The mistakes are plentiful and the do-over and take-backs don’t exist. If it was easy, everybody would be a good one.

What’s left for me is now to adjust to a phase that is the very hardest so far. That’s letting them go out into the world and make their own choices, their own mistakes, and walk their own path to adulthood. It’s a lot harder at 19 than it was at 5.

I remember writing an essay years ago about how being a good father in the worst of times only required a hug and some cookies and milk. At 19, that cure-all isn’t quite as effective.

Kim told me not long ago about talking to someone who has read the column since the beginning. They asked about Cameron and how old he was. They commented that they remembered reading about him for all these many years.

For any others who have wondered, he is a fine young man who makes Kim and me proud on a regular basis. He also drives each of us crazy every now and then. He is really just an all-American kid trying to grow up in a very complicated world.

Much like my dad, I wished I could have been a better father. If I am lucky one day he will look back and say that I was.

— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at lindon.dodd@hotmail.com

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