I learned about being a dad from my father and I hope I have passed on that advice to my son, Jake. Jake became a father for the first time in July. This is the guy who said he never wanted kids because it wasn’t fair to bring them into such a hostile and uncertain world. I often reminded him that each generation had a good excuse to remain childless. When I was young, there was the very real threat of nuclear annihilation; and for my parents there was the great depression and WWII and for their parents there was the world-wide depression of the late 1800s and the first world war. In reality, any excuse is a good excuse if one doesn’t want to do something.
As happenstance would have it, my son’s child was a surprise which quickly turned into a blessing once the baby was born. During the pregnancy Jake worried about becoming a dad, wondering if he had what it takes to be a good one; about the loss of his personal liberty and about settling down. I tried to reassure him that once he held the baby in his arms, a switch would turn on inside of him and love and the intense desire to protect this infant would become overwhelming. At least, that was my experience. And, that’s exactly what happened. Jake became smitten at the very moment he held his daughter Ava in his arms. Jake cradles the baby close to him and the majority of pictures we see are of Ava strapped to Jake’s chest and peering with her deep dark eyes out into the world from the security of her father’s embrace.
My own dad was six years old when his father was killed in a coal mine explosion in West Virginia (under an alias name - which is fodder for a future post). So, my dad didn’t have a role model of how to be a father. And yet this massive, twice-wounded WWII Marine Corps Master Sargent was a great dad. He was hard and you wouldn’t dare bend his rules – but there was no doubt that each of the four of his children were deeply loved and that he adored our mother.
This is the advice I want to convey to Jake: It isn’t about what you do as a dad – it is about how much you love and how secure your children feel in that love. I warn him to expect to screw up; to sometimes make bad decisions as a father. Being a parent is absolutely the toughest and most frightening thing I have ever done. The antidote for the inevitable bouts of failure as a parent is love. A child will learn to forgive a parent for their mistakes if she is secure in her parents’ love.
If a parent can go to bed each night and answer yes to the question: did I show my kids that I loved them today – then that’s the best you can do. You will have given your children something they will never forget. And hopefully, something they will pass down to their own children.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.