FOR THE FATHER’S SAKE
Below is a column I wrote in June of 2008 for my son on Father’s Day.
It is being reprinted here at the request of Stacey Brotzel of CTV, who is a fabulous broadcast journalist.
The column was a gift to my son. But it spoke to my own inner yearning — a yearning common to men of my generation and perhaps all generations.
Here it is.
This belated Father’s Day message is for the sons, as much as the fathers.
Let me introduce Matt, my 17-year-old. He is taller than me. His hair is long and far from neat. He wears tatty clothes. His bedroom is a biohazard. His school marks don’t match his potential.
But I love him dearly. And I’m fiercely proud of him. Matt is an independent, talented and amiable young man with an infectious laugh and a strong sense of loyalty to family and friends.
Before I go any further, I must mention Matt’s sisters, Jennifer and Molly. I’m not playing favourites. I love my daughters just as much; I am just as proud of them.
But my thoughts turned to Matt on Father’s Day for one obvious reason. Some day, Matt might be a father.
So Matt, let me tell you a bit about being a dad. First off, it’s hard as hell. But not for the reasons you think. Children are not the father’s problem. The father’s problem is inside the father.
Let me begin by telling you a little about my dad. I’m sure you miss your grandpa, too. On Father’s Day, when I thought of you, I also thought of him.
Your grandfather, as you know, was a kind and generous man. He could be so charming and so full of humour. Charlie McKeen had one of the world’s best laughs. Yet, as you also know, he carried with him a burden.
In one drunken moment, he revealed it to me. He told of how he’d never felt the love or respect of his father. Both his brothers, my uncles, were big, strapping men. But my dad, whose twin died in childbirth, was the runt of the litter.
Big deal — right? But I’m here to tell you, Matt, that seemingly inconsequential things can eat away at a man. Especially if these things involve the relationship between father and son.
My father never felt like he measured up. He felt like he wasn’t the man his father wanted him to be. He was not given his father’s true love and affection. The void it created is not uncommon in men.
This missing connection — the absence of fatherly approval — is likely the reason why men constantly feel the need to prove their masculinity, mostly to themselves.
Some young men drive cars or motorcycles at high speed. Others drink too much. Some try to prove themselves by brawling. Others are workaholics whose ambition is never satisfied.
You can’t climb high enough, fight hard enough or drive fast enough to fill up the missing part of yourself.
Matt, your grandfather always felt a bit ashamed of his trade, plumbing. But that wasn’t the issue. My dad never received his birthright.
Boys need to know their fathers love them; they need to be guided and shown the ways of loving men; and they eventually must be given their father’s stamp of approval, as men.
You might be thinking that my dad’s father — your great-grandfather — was a terrible man. Not so. He was just the bearer of a sad legacy. Men who are raised in the absence of fatherly love are ill-equipped to be outwardly loving to their own sons.
My father, like his father, was burdened with this inner void. And his relationship with his dad impacted his relationship with me. I know intellectually that my father loved me. But the tragic legacy of men left him unable to express it directly, with words or physical touch.
When you were born and you began to grow into a boy, I began to feel the void open. As I became more keenly aware of it, I became haunted by guilt. I feared I’d never be the father you deserved. Your sisters, I suspect, received more affection, simply because they were girls.
Do you remember how you wanted me to play action-figure games with you? It was a struggle for me. Not because I didn’t love you. But I realize now it’s because I felt truly incompetent.
That is a strange thing to say. But I believe it to be true that men will work overtime, find renovation projects, become obsessive with hobbies or turn to drink, at least partly because they feel incompetent in their relationships with their wives and children, especially their boys.
You want us to express and show our feelings and affection. We don’t really know how. Our fathers didn’t show us the way. Just as their fathers never showed them.
Truly, I think every generation of men makes progress in this regard.
I remember researching a story years ago about the importance of touch. You were just a little boy, Matt. But afterwards, if we were watching TV together, I purposely rubbed your arm.
It sounds corny, but I’m really proud of those moments. And I cherish the memory of caressing the skin of your tiny arm.
Matt, I’ve always been so grateful that you are my boy. You and your sisters bring warmth to my heart, even on the most difficult days.
My wish is that you might read this. And remember it. And that your void be smaller than your father’s. As my void was smaller than my dad’s.
Matt, you measure up. You are already a man in my eyes. And a terrific one.
You are loved, my son. But could you please clean your damn room.