Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fatherhood for Amateurs

I recently started reading a book called Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (who has become one of my favorite writers). This is a book of essays in which Chabon reflects on his experiences in the various capacities in which we exist as men (sons, husbands, fathers).

In the very first essay, he recalls an encounter at the supermarket. He is holding his small child in the checkout line when a random stranger addresses him and says, "You're a good father. I can tell." Chabon reveals that, in that very moment, he was not doing anything spectacular. In point of fact, he was literally doing nothing at all. He was simply holding his child. He points out that nobody would ever approach a mother under these circumstances and say, "I can tell you're a good mom." The standards for being a good mom are much higher than the standards for being a good dad.

He points out that the good and bad news for fathers is that the bar has been set embarrassingly low. You simply have to avoid physically abusing your child in public, and you very well may be approached by strangers to be commended on your outstanding performance as a paternal figure.

The sad truth is that Chabon is completely correct. We have come to expect so little from fathers that a man could literally be doing nothing and still be praised as a good parent.

So, here is my question for you. What do you think makes someone a genuinely good father? I acknowledge that this is a question that has been the subject of countless books, seminars, workshops, sermon series, and movies-of-the-week, and we could never, in a blog post, encapsulate the width and breadth of this topic. However, I want to try. I want to know how people perceive their own fathers and how that has influenced their perspective on good dads. What would a father have to do in order to raise the bar (or at least pick it up off the floor) for the rest of us?

Another great book that explores this topic is Donald Miller's To Own a Dragon.