I grew up with the image of the father that appeared on all of those TV shows in the 1960s and 1970s -- the dad worked in an office, came home at the end of the day, played catch with his son, got involved with his daughter's quest for Girl Scout badges, and always loved, supported and listened to his wife.
Why didn't some advocate stand up to the TV industry in the 1960s and insist that they add a disclaimer at the beginning of each of these shows saying that these events are total fiction? Real families don't act like this, and parents certainly can't realistically be the perfect parent all the time. An announcement like this would certainly have helped in my adult life, possibly saving me from the many parenting/marriage mistakes I made.
As an adult/parent, I had to re-figure my brain to accept that real life and parenting were oh so different from the TV I grew up watching. And I can count on one finger the number of dads I know who act like those old TV dads.
My dad died almost twenty years ago. He and I weren't necessarily close, probably due to my living with my mom after their divorce when I was 11. He really never knew what to do with a girl. He didn't play tea party or any kind of board games with me. He was too busy working and too tired when he came home. This never bothered me; that's just the way it was.
In the Washington Post, writer Joel Achenback defines a good father as someone "just there, always, a reassuring presence -- even when he's not there anymore, because of the rules of mortality, and all you can do is hear his voice in your head."
I hear my dad's voice often.
Every time I use a water hose, my dad's voice comes to me, telling me that he will spank me if I don't roll that hose back up. I never got a whipping for that, but the threat worked. Back when I was growing up, parents spanked. No one questioned it. I didn't spank my children, but who's to say mine are better? I wonder.
Sometimes I look at the racial population of my classroom and know that my dad would not like it. I was raised in Tuskegee, Alabama, during the 1960s and started school in 1964 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. He sent me to a segregated private school from first through twelfth grade and probably preferred that I teach in one of these schools, too. Ironically, I have always taught in public schools. I don't look at a kid's race; I only look at what he does in my class. He could be lime green with pink dots, and I wouldn't care as long as he does his best on assignments.
My dad was a good dad. He just wasn't that huggy/kissy kind of dad and sometimes I wish he had been, but I survived. Now, I remind myself to hug my kids more.
I don't know what makes a great dad. My husband doesn't consider himself a good dad even though he is always the person the family comes to when they need someone. If a car breaks, if they need answers to complex questions, or if they need to tell someone the bad news so he can soften the blow, he is the one they call. And long after he's gone, they will hear his voice in their heads.
I do know that dad's are not like the ones on TV. They are real people, fighting real life, and most of them are doing the best they can most of the time.
I wish my dad were still here. I'd like to let him know that I'm glad he was my dad.