I want a daddy do-over

Tyler’s first day of high school

This past week our youngest grandson, Tyler, started high school. His parents are shocked by how fast he’s grown and I find the whole thing amusing.

Been there, done that.

I was a single parent from the time Jeremy was four years old. The term “single parent” isn’t accurate, of course. Our son had two parents who adored him regardless of our inability to continue living together. Maybe more so because of that. He was the glue that secured the broken bond I had with his mother and he still is. Karen and I remain close because our little boy is 42 now with a rapidly aging son of his own.

I’m just going to say this once because I know he’ll protest and because I don’t want to come across as a nostalgic whiner:

Sometimes I think my son is a better dad than I was.  I want a do-over.

Wait, hear me out.

I’m not saying he loves his kid more than I did. Not possible. It’s just that he’s more deeply involved in his son’s daily life and activities than I was when he was little and I’m sorry about that.

Jeremy & Tyler
Theatrical nuts don’t fall far from the tree.

Aside from the obvious, that one-parent-at-a-time thing, there is a difference in us as people.

For one thing, Jeremy has a sharp mind for mechanics and can build stuff. I’m a mechanical idiot. I will offer that as an excuse for never building him the tree house I always wanted him to have. (That and the fact that we never had the requisite tree, but it still haunts me.) I didn’t have a tree house when I was a kid and I wanted one for both of us.

Jeremy and Emily are scout leaders. I actually tried that when he was little but his Tiger Cub pack of four kids broke up after two or three outings. That group was led by all dads, no moms. Go figure.

More than anything I just wish I had taken my kid to see the world when he was old enough to appreciate it and to give him cherished lifetime memories of the great times and big things we did together.

We didn’t do those things and I’m still kicking myself.

CarolAnn reminds me of all the things we did do when our boys were growing up. We took them on a cruise, we took them to Disneyland and the Grand Canyon; Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone — certainly far more in the way of adventure than either of us had when we were growing up.

Still, there are regrets and I suppose that’s true for every parent who ever watched his or her child leave the nest far too soon.

I should have taken him to New York for Broadway theater, we both love that stuff. Why didn’t I ever take him to London, for that matter? Or to Boston, the cradle of American history?

Regret is just a memory written on my brow, and there’s nothing I can do about it now. -Beth Nielsen Chapman

Missed opportunities never fade completely but like everything else you get over them, you learn to appreciate what you have and reluctantly shrug off the things you just didn’t get around to doing. Sometimes I still want a do-over but these days the thought barely passes my mind before a soothing explanation follows:

Your son is a better dad because you set the bar pretty high and taught him how to clear it.

It took me a long time to spin that story and I’m sticking to it.

 

Father’s Day in Judgment City

by Dave Williams

Jeremy and me, the early 80s, Fairytale Town at Land Park, Sacramento..

One of my favorite movies is Defending Your Life starring, written, and directed by Albert Brooks. It’s about a man who dies on his birthday and wakes  up in Judgment City, a Purgatory-like waiting area where he must justify his life in order to proceed to the next phase of existence. It’s warm and funny and will keep you examining your own life for a very long time.

My son Jeremy loves this movie as much as I do and today is his birthday.

On my birthday 17 years ago, shortly before he died, my dad told me he couldn’t believe he had a son who was 50. I know the feeling.

Jeremy was born 42 years ago today. Like all loving parents at this age I understand that he’s an adult with a family of his own and our relationship has grown with us. But like all parents, in my heart he will always be my little boy.

You have to be careful about that when you talk to a middle-aged child. Occasionally I still have to stop myself from calling him, “Kiddo”.

I’m not going to wax poetic about Jeremy and me. Many fine words have been written about ideal father-son relationships and the bonds of love that can’t be described. I have nothing to add. We know how we feel and how we’ve enriched and informed each other’s lives.

I will say this, however:

I am a far better person for his existence than I would be without his love, influence and instruction.

Parenting is a two-way street. You get as much as you give; you learn at least as much as you teach, probably more.

If you’re happy with who you are today you can thank your children in large measure.

When I arrive in Judgment City I will point fearlessly to my boy and testify, “This man is my justification for everything.”

***************

 

 

Aging is easy, changing is hard

by Dave Williams

I learned nothing from my upbringing about aging gracefully. Mother’s  only advice about the passing years was to encourage the use of more moisturizer so boys will like you.

– Anita Garner

My friend Anita wrote those words in her blog earlier this week and it made me think about my own upbringing.

Dad showing me how to use a slingshot

My parents taught me small things about washing dishes and how to work a slingshot. Mom taught me to scrub my face with Phisohex to wipe away teenaged pimples. Dad taught me to stand up straight and look a man in the eyes when I shook his hand.

Neither of them talked to me about girls or careers and retirement. I didn’t even get the birds and the bees talk.

There was no talk, not one speck of advice about fulfillment, about health, about work, about relationships, about how all of that changes through the years. – Anita

My parents, like Anita’s, left me to learn the deep, quiet lessons of life in my own good time. They taught me to be honest and respectful and that was pretty much it. Matters of my future and relationships were not theirs to teach.

These days parents seem to be much more hands-on. They plan their kids’ lives from sunup to sundown, from birth to college and beyond.

For all the stuff we read about helicopter parents and everyone-gets-a-trophy I don’t think parents today are doing anything wrong. It’s not mine to judge. The world seems much more complicated now than it was 60 years ago, though I don’t understand why.

I do wish my grandsons could spend their free afternoons building forts in open fields with no grownups around. I wish they could ride their bikes home at sundown dirty, sweaty and wearing a freshly scabbed knee and simply be told to go wash up for dinner.

Their world isn’t mine, I get that.

But sometimes I still wish it was.

A father’s advice: part one

Dad and me, c. 1967

by Dave Williams

Today I have some words of advice for my sons and theirs. We dads are very good at this. Even if the advice is sometimes nonsense we never stop spewing warnings, admonitions, analogies, metaphors and stories that begin with, “When I was your age…”

My own dad was a master of the art. He’s been gone for several years now but every day of my life things happen that remind me of something he said or did largely created the better parts of the man I am today. I still seek his advice and he still delivers.

Whenever I am faced with a perplexing decision I only have to ask myself, “What would Dad tell you?” The answer comes to me in a flash.

Jeremy and me camping c. 1986

It works very well the other way around, too. Sometimes I have a dilemma that just can’t be sorted out by weighing the pros and cons of alternative actions or decisions. If I simply ask myself, “What would you tell Jeremy or Nathan to do?” I get my answer immediately with clarity and confidence.

These wise tricks of fatherhood are excellent tools and I highly recommend them. They almost always work.

Almost.

So, the first piece of advice I must give my sons is: have faith in your wisdom but embrace your honest ignorance. There’s no shame in it.

Repeat after me now the three little words that are the most powerful item in a father’s bag of tricks:

“I don’t know.”

Say it again, fearlessly, as if you mean it this time.

“I don’t know.”

The more you say it the easier it becomes but you also must understand that these words should never be used except in sincerity. Your eternal responsibility to your children requires that you make every effort to help them find their way through life’s labyrinth. You, of course, are still finding your own way through the maze and sometimes they will encounter an intersection you’ve not seen. So, again with feeling, please:

“I don’t know.”

It’s getting kind of warm and charming, isn’t it? Maybe later we can address the other three words you need in your toolkit which require much greater skill and caution:

“Ask your mother.”

Post Script: After she read this my wife, the lovely and feisty CarolAnn Conley-Williams said, “You need to add the other three words that are the most important of all: ‘I love you.'” I replied, “That’s obvious.” She said, “No, it’s not. Many fathers can’t or won’t say it.”

She’s right, of course. I didn’t think of it because we Williams dads have no problem with it at all. You can read her comment below.