As Father’s Day nears this year, I’ve chosen to reflect on myself as a father; how I continue to learn to be a dad to three teenage daughters, and how they have helped me to grow as a person. I have many jobs, but this is my most cherished.
I grew up in the late 1960s, a time when being a dad could not have been simpler. My father would leave for work while we slept, come home at 5:45 p.m., dinner on the table prepared by mom at 6, newspaper, two TV shows, a bath, sleep, and back to work. His parenting consisted of “You did what?” “You need what?” or “I know you’re leaving for college, but is there anything you need to know about girls?”
Yes dad, I needed to learn how to love them, talk to them, respect them, and raise them.
Growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s meant that everything I thought I knew about women would need to be relearned later in life. I grew up thinking a woman’s job was only to have children and to be a parent, but I needed to learn to be comfortable that women colleagues might actually surpass me in the workplace, and rightfully so.
I grew up as an athlete, but later struggled as the female spin instructors at my gym regularly kicked my ass. I was brought up to appreciate a woman’s looks, but never realized my comments about a woman’s body may have affected my children’s own body images. I have learned to accept that women might be smarter and stronger, and beautiful from the inside out. And of course, God decided that I was meant to be the father of three wonderful girls to help me through this journey of enlightenment.
I often tell people there is no better way to remain humble than to have three teenage girls. I think I still look pretty good for my age, dress like someone from this era, am reasonably successful, and still a weekend athlete, but to my children I am the dorky guy singing Pink Floyd with their friends in the car.
I am a constant source of embarrassment, who in their terms regularly “crosses the line”. I’m not sure where the line lies, but I suspect they’re right in my constant crossing.
All I’m really looking for is the ability to relate to them. I swore to myself in my early 20s that I would be a cool dad. I would have children who would want to talk to me. I promised I would like my children’s music and allow them to play it loudly on family rides.
I committed to coaching them as they grew up playing sports so that I would have the opportunity to be the coach the other kids liked, and someone they could be proud of. And with everything I’ve done, there are many days I still feel like a failure.
And it crushes me.
An old friend recently told me that he was given “roots and wings,” and has spent the last 20 years trying to do the same for his children. I realized quickly that it may be the best summary of what I’d like to achieve as a father and what I feel I missed most from my parents.
I try so hard to make sure my children’s lives are only filled with happiness and positive experiences that I’ve begun to question if I’ve equipped them to succeed on their own. I try to make sure they have everything they need, but am questioning whether I’ve tied their wings. My oldest started driving a couple of years back, and while I love the freedom and independence she’s enjoyed, I still flip out when she doesn’t text me when she gets where she’s going. I have no reason not to trust her, and I feel that I help her spread her wings while holding them down at the same time.
One of my goals this year is to truly help my daughters feel that they are capable of flying on their own. As fathers we are protectors and teachers, and while we forever kiss the bruised elbow after a fall, I feel my job needs to include teaching them the importance of getting back on the bike. So this year I have learned for the first time that being a good dad does not mean making all their problems go away. For me, it now means equipping my children with the tools to resolve their own problems.
As much as I struggle with the wings I am often overwhelmed with the joy I get as a result of the way my wife and I have provided strong roots. We are a family that loves our time together, and we enjoy a great extended family and a community filled with friends. My children have close friends who help guide them through adolescence, and they have been raised with traditions that have afforded them strong physical and emotional roots to last their lifetime.
The emotional roots I continue to enjoy are strong. My children are exposed to people who have been in my life since I was in kindergarten. They have grown up seeing that the friendships I developed at their age remain with me in middle age, and will likely stay with me forever. So I’m good with the roots, and thankful that I can leave one thing off my to-do list this year.
Fatherhood might be the scariest role that any of us ever play. I place all the blame for my daughters’ failures on myself, and credit my wife with all of the positive qualities our children have. I know that I will cry each time they find joy, and will cry each time they feel pain. I give them everything I am capable of, and I’m hopeful that I will never stop learning to give them what I don’t know how to today. I take great joy in receiving from them.
In celebration of Father’s Day, I want to thank them for the presents I’ve received. From my oldest daughter, I have received the gift of remembrance of my adolescence. She shows me daily what my adolescence was, and reminds me to enjoy the simplicity of what my life has become. She also reminds me frequently of the joy that comes from interacting with the innocence of young children.
From my middle daughter I receive the gift of laughter, and the reminder to take things in stride. She is a wonderful teacher and a wonderful inspiration. She is someone who actually does all that she wants and inspires me to do some of the same.
And from my youngest daughter, I get the last remains of the joy of fathering a child. She is on the verge of womanhood, but for now she allows me to remember the happiness I’ve gotten from fatherhood for the last 19 years. She is effortless in her endeavors, yet always surpasses my expectations. She will become an incredible woman. So thank you to all my children, and to my wife who shares in the peaks and valleys of being a parent with me.
There are many wonderful gifts to give your spouse this Father’s Day. I’ve taken the liberty of listing some of my favorites. I hope he enjoys receiving them as much as I have.
1.) Teach your husband to cry openly, out of joy and out of sadness, so your children may learn that strong men can still be touched by beauty and pain.
2.) Let your husband know that he’s a wonderful partner in bringing up your children, and his legacy will be strong as a result of the way he has taught them to love.
3.) Remind him that having his children enjoy sports with him is a victory in of itself; their health and enjoyment of competing will last a lifetime, and their memories of sharing a bike ride or game of hoops with him will lead them to do the same when they’re parents. Winning or making the travel team really is less important.
4.) Appreciate the sacrifices he has made of his own dreams so that his children may realize more of theirs. But encourage him to fulfill a dream of his own regularly so your children may learn that reaching for their dreams is possible, and that the joy is in the journey.
5.) Most importantly, thank him for teaching his children to laugh. There is no greater gift for a father then to share in the uncontrollable, soda-through-the-nose laughter that he shares with his family. So whatever else you do this Father’s Day to recognize your spouse or your father, ensure there’s laughter involved.
It’s what we all want most every day and what we love most about having a family to share it with.
Howard Moses is a managing partner of Blue Star Jets, a private flight charter service headquartered on Nassau Street (U.S. 1 cover story, September 10, 2008).
The son of an apparel industry entrepreneur, Moses earned his bachelor’s in political science from Stony Brook University in 1984.
Moses, a collector of historical items, father to three teenage girls, and reasonably good husband, is working diligently on his first book “The Journey To the Middle” in addition to writing poems and short essays as time allows.