When I started working with young fathers almost three decades ago, I noticed a trend very early on that continues to fascinate me. At first, I attributed it to my location – Northern California in the Capitol city of Sacramento. It seemed that every street corner had literally every walk of life represented. Every color, every nationality, every language and every culture. Still today, as I meet regularly with fathers-to-be in a hospital setting for childbirth classes, fatherhood remains a universal experience.
How could two men be at the same place in life when their education, their occupation, their age and their race are so different? The Ph.D. sits next to a rapper speaking a common language that doesn’t come from the classroom or the rap music. The language of fatherhood is all about the child that is about to be born and how it is already transforming the lives of these two very different individuals.
The teen father in front of me speaks of exactly the same things as the father-to-be sitting next to him who is twice his age. They are both newbies looking over the same ocean of experiences that will rock their world to the core of their being. Fatherhood is universal.
One father will teach his child a completely different language than another. One child will learn to work with his hands while another learns to use his mind to make a living. A child with special needs will be born to one and require almost constant care while another child is blessed with freedom of movement and independence from parents. All these fathers will have done the same thing in the lives of their children…if they do their job as a father well.
The universal reality of fatherhood is the privilege of opening the mind and heart of a young child in such a way that your presence is desired but not required. A good dad will empower his son or daughter to be all that he or she can be. The limits will be removed. The glass ceiling will be forever broken. The strength of the father will become the asset of the growing child.
Despite the child’s constant view of a father’s example and constant ear to the words of wisdom shared, a good father’s goal is never a dependent child but an independent one. The universal quality of fatherhood is seen in the smile on dad’s face when his child figures out the next step completely on her own without needing any assistance at all. Mission accomplished. She really can do it all by herself.
Fatherhood is the universal achievement of engaging a dependent child and empowering him to make his own choices and accept the consequences of his own decisions increasingly over time. The 18 or 24 or 30 year clock starts ticking and the process of providing everything moves toward the reality of watching from the sidelines before either of them know it.
Thank your dad this Father’s Day for everything he taught you and everything he let you learn on your own. Thank him if you have a job, a life companion, a hobby and an appreciation for the good things in life. If you are the dad now, it is your job to keep this universal reality alive for another generation.