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.


Cassie said...

I'll tell you what I love to see Chason do as a father.... Kohen is 20 months old now and tries to communicate constantly, but often makes no sense at all. It makes my heart happy when I see Chason stop what he is doing, get on Kohen's level and try his best to figure out exactly what Kohen is trying to say. Chason repeats the babble, guesses at words, looks around, points, all the while Kohen is grunting, pointing, babbling, and eventually they reach a place of understanding, both looking quite proud, even excited, at the accomplishment. I think the virtue here would be patience, but on top of that a genuine desire to affirm your child. The original message usually is inconsequential (like, Look, Dad, I can see something green on the counter and I am trying to tell you it is "GREEN"!) and it may take a minute or two for the message to be deciphered. But in the end there is the enthusiastic reply by Chason, "Yes, Kohen that IS green, very good!"

We had a great sermon this week about how being children of God gives us access to Him in the same way... you might check it out:
"The Prodigal God" 1/24/10

Nancy said...

You always have good posts.
Like this one.

And Cassie's comment is priceless.

caroline said...

My dad only wants the very best for me in everything, and I always always knew that. And I knew he would do anything for me and I would always be safe. From a daughter's perspective that's pretty much the biggest thing ever. Knowing I always had unconditional love.
He's pretty much superman to me.
Plus, both he and my mom always said I could do anything. They always pushed me to be ambitious and try things and work hard. They built my self esteem and self confidence.
So basically, those are pretty big shoes to fill.
And I know you are going to be a GREAT dad and our kids will think you are THEIR superman.

I'm not sure what that all sums up to, but

caroline said...

oops that last line, I'm not sure what it's about or how it got there... haha oh well..

Crystal said...

I have to disagree that the man standing in line holding his small child was doing nothing special to deserve the comment he received. He was in fact, doing something special. An observer (who takes the time to watch and listen) can tell alot by body language and what is going on.

First of all, the dad was at the grocery store with his son - which implies to me that he was giving his wife a break in some sense (whether she was home doing laundry & cooking dinner or out with friends) - being a good husband is the start of being a good father AND he was [most likely] helping his wife so that she would not have to go to the store.

Second, he was holding his child. He did not leave his son in the basket while he skimmed through a magazine or talked on his cell phone. He was not ignoring his child (it's hard to ignore a child when you're holding them). He was actually spending time with his child and telling the child that he is important to him.

Third, his child wanted to spend time with his dad - this is evident by the fact that he was comfortable in his dad's arms - he wasn't squirming to get out & play with something.

From the excerpt, we don't know if the dad & son were talking or playing, but if they were, there is one more indication that the woman had to give this great compliment.

In general, this man did deserve to be told that he was a good dad. If you see a man doing the same thing, you should pass along the same words to him. This is one way that we can lift dads up to begin picking the bar up on what it means to be a good dad.