I am starting to come to terms with the idea that I am not a "man's man". No, nothing to do with my sexuality, though that has been questioned many times (including one rather embarrassing discussion with that aforementioned father of mine). But rather that I appear to have a complete lack of mechanical or technical training, which I have been assured by many of my friends, is something they learned at their father's side. The more I thought about this, the broader the scope of it became. It was soon apparent that it was not limited to the appropriate names for saw blade types, nor how to clean a carbeurator.
Now, my father and I did not have a good relationship. That's an understatement actually. I was hospitalized twice and still have some scars due to our lack of a good relationship. He is my step father, and we never saw eye to eye on pretty much anything. Of course, he's recently divorced my mother, and I learned that he had never formally adopted me, so I suppose calling him my father is no longer accurate, if it ever was.
It seems to me however, that many of my friends are in similar circumstances. Things that we should have been taught by our parents were somehow left out of our childhood educations. I know I am not alone in feeling somehow left out or set aside by my parents, its pretty much a generational thing as I see it. And the more I think about it, the more I think that it is not limited to just mechanical things... its deeper than that.
Our fathers (or step-fathers, or whatever male role model was in our lives during our childhood) were reared at a time when paternal love and interaction with children seems to have been at a low ebb. I have no idea what the actual cause of that was, likely something to do with the wars that preceded them, and the turbulent times of change that resulted. Not saying that to make excuses for them, if they even need those, but to ponder what happened, and why. At any rate, many of those I talk to in my age bracket all report similar experiences. Dad was there, we knew he loved us (well, some of us) but he wasn't really all that involved. He didn't show us his love and affection, he never even used the word love.
Now that I am a father, this is the sort of thing that is praying upon me. Each time I bump into a conundrum of how to interact with my children, or how to dispense wisdom, love, affection or discipline, I don't have a model to work with. I resort to asking "What would Bill Cosby have done?" - on his show, not in real life of course. :) I find it more and more upsetting that I don't have the training and skills that a father should have. That a provider should have.
So... what should my father have taught me?
If you say you are going to do something, then you do it. Don't back down from your responsibilities, both the good ones and the bad.
If you love someone, tell them. Tell them often and loudly. Nothing goes further or deeper than the words "I love you. I need you."
Let your children know that you are proud of them. My son hugs me so hard when I tell him that he's done something well. No matter how small, no matter how mundane, its still a victory, still a step he has taken toward becoming the man that I hope to one day know. And I am so proud of him.
Learn to work with your hands, but keep your mind sharp. Bug loves to help me with his tools, and loves to fix things with me. If I am doing a job, he's there, hardhat on, tool belt full of plastic tools, smiling to raise the sun. And we talk about what we are fixing, and how to fix it, and how it got broken in the first place. We talk about the plans you need. We talk.
Create. Anything at all, but create. Men can never know the feeling of creating life, but we can still be great creators of other things. Art, music, poetry. Piles of snow in the back yard. Houseplants, bookshelves. Families. Love.
Don't be afraid to cry. And never hold back a laugh. Your feelings are valid, you are important and you do matter. How you feel reflects who you are. Its OK to be mad, its normal to be sad sometimes.
Be honest with yourself. Be honest with those who ask your opinion. Truth is powerful, binding and amazing. You never have to worry about getting caught in the truth.
Use the right tool for the right job. If you have to cut down a tree, don't use a hacksaw - get a chainsaw. If you need to level a floor, don't try to do it with a 12" level. When you have a friend who needs you, don't use email - be there. When you feel pain and loss, a shoulder is the right place to let it out.
Be thankful. No matter how hard your life is, no matter how low you sink and no matter what trials you face, there is always something to be thankful for.
Have faith. Not necessarily in God(s)(dess), or even in a higher power at all. Have faith in yourself, your family, your friends. Have faith in humanity, even though it can be hard sometimes. Have faith in a better future, have faith in the power of love. Have faith that you can do it, and you will.
Be yourself. And know that I will be there for you, no matter who you are, because you are my friend, my family, my child. Don't let anyone, not even me, tell you who you are, how you feel, what you should do or what you should wear. You are unique, powerful and wonderful. Never forget that.