LIFE AS A MODERN-DAY DAD
Circumnavigating any part of life today can be a daunting task at best. With the world changing so drastically every day it’s hard to keep tabs on even the most basic of principles. As a father these difficulties are exacerbated by our struggles with our deep-set traditions and instincts vs external current world views.
I hope to create some real conversation with you in a safe and nurturing space. I hope this article and subsequent articles will help fathers like myself who just don’t know exactly how or where to begin.
Let me introduce myself.
My name is Paul Abner. I grew up in North Philadelphia with my older brother and four sisters. Currently I live in a suburb outside of the city- where I am a stay-at-home-father taking care of my two children, my five-year-old daughter and my two-year-old son. Their mother is a very driven career-woman who has absolutely dominated her career.
As my kids grow, I find myself asking difficult questions. Like for instance: “where do I start?”
Do I teach structure and discipline like my mother? Or a ‘life is formless’ approach like my father?
Please join me on this journey as I process out loud:
Recently I was reading a book that chronicles the lives of three very strong women. In fact, the influence on their children through the adversities they faced lead to three of the most influential men in American history. I speak of James Baldwin, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Malcom X. This reading had undoubtedly led me to witness both the unveiling of some amazing discoveries and the shining of a potentially blinding spotlight on some atrocities.
That brought me to my first question: Do I teach my children about slavery? And if so, do I highlight the stories of degradation and suffering or do I zoom in on the stories of those who looked death directly in the eyes and pushed forward?
It would seem a healthy balance of the two would be the best approach, however I am hesitant.
I don’t want to teach my kids about oppression for fear it will become a lifelong crutch. At the same time ignoring the fact that these things existed could be setting them up for a big fall in a world where the color of their skin matters more than anything else about them.
Sure, we can pretend these things no longer exist, but with all due respect to all, please keep in mind we are having an honest conversation.
I often look at the other side of the coin. It must be equally difficult for European Americans to teach their children about slavery for fear they will hate themselves, and it must be near impossible to ignore the hate they will also receive (while different) for just being born white.
As fathers, we wake up every day with one common goal. That is to keep or families safe. Yet how can we do that in a world where difficult conversations are no longer acceptable or at least encouraged?
That’s the space I aim to hold for us; the space where we communicate, connect and respectfully forge bonds through our common ground and at the same time progressively respect beliefs within the community of fatherhood that may even be different than our own. We are all unique and we certainly need to celebrate and support those difference even as we navigate our likenesses.
This will overall strengthen our parenting, our community, our world, our families and our children.
If you made it to this part of the article then it’s safe to assume that we all understand that being cancelled does not equate to keeping our children alive, safe and secure. We have the awareness that it starts with courage, compassion and community and in having an open dialogue about some of the difficult issues, such as the ones I lay before you.
You have already demonstrated fearlessness and commitment to proactively aiding in your child’s development, and in the healing and celebrating of our world on many levels, so let’s dive deeper.
There are infinite discussions we will bring to the table on many important topics that we need be aware of and communicate openly and respectfully about.
Like most fathers, I live by the “To Each Their Own.” Principle. Yet it’s very difficult for many of us to ‘live and let live’ when our children seem to become the target of teachings that are out of alignment with our personal practices and beliefs.
For instance, I know men who love to hunt- they teach their sons to hunt. I also know fathers who would never see or take part in an animal harmed- they only eat plant-based foods. Also, there is a growing movement for more specifically defined genders and more rights for those genders.
So, who’s right? Obviously, each school of thought, each situation, each approach innately has merit.
My questions, uncertainties and hesitancies begin when the two sides begin to fight over that merit. It goes a step further in the wrong direction, when one side feels its argument should serve as grounds to punish, ruin or intentionally degrade the ‘opposition’.
Where is the line drawn between healthy discourse and full-on fascism (believe what I believe, or else) and how can we heal this harmfully polarizing division, closed-mindedness and shaming? It makes me question whether the things I’m teaching my son will be detrimental to him in the future… How will my personal guidance as his father effect and impact his career, love, and friendships?
I’d love for my son to be an all-American football star who knows the value of an honest day’s work. Yet, how in that scenario do I provide and instill a priority on his mental health? Where in that formula for cultivating a ‘man’s- man’ do I leave room for raising someone who can truly honor and articulate his feelings?
Again, very difficult.
As for my daughter, I know what goes on in a man’s mind. How do I prepare her for a world that will surely try to take advantage of her, without scaring her into a shell?
Her mother is an absolute titan of industry yet longs for the pure joy of being a full-time mother. So how do I explain to my daughter that while money is important, there is no greater joy than motherhood?
Perhaps try what has started to work for me:
Ask yourself what things are most difficult to speak about and take a moment to listen to and process what comes up for you.
Then begin with the words “well, I feel……”
Maybe these three words will help jumpstart your adventure into your own thoughts and feelings as well as into someone else’s mind and heart.
Remember to speak your highest truth kindly and be willing to listen to others compassionately.
Two ears one mouth.
So, in writing this article and in processing out loud, I feel I am one step further along the path than I was before writing it; I hope my words have also inspired you.
I leave you for now with this:
Fatherhood is a gift, a blessing and a responsibility. Start where you are and do what you can to listen, learn and lead along the way.
As I look back and begin to look forward with you, I hope that we can all find a healthy, happy and productive common ground and at the same time proudly bring to the table our differences that make us special and unique. I have high hopes and great confidence in us all that we can together solve the equation that facilitates our becoming the much sought after 1% better every day, as fathers, as men and as human beings.
By Paul Abner
Thank You for reading, and Happy Father’s Day!