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Learning From My Father's Mistakes

By Garry Haraveth


I’ve been giving a great deal of thought as of late about my father and being a father myself. This was recently triggered by listening to songs I grew to love because my father listened to a lot of music while I was growing up. I know I didn’t appreciate the music when I was younger, but it grew on me overtime and now triggers thoughts of nostalgia. Also, this year has been one of the most challenging years for me as a father. My son is 13 and well, we are learning to redefine our relationship as he grows more independent while at times, still wanting to be a kid without responsibility who can rely on his dear old dad. Not to mention school related issues and pushing boundaries and figuring out his place in this world. All typical coming of age, teenager things that I frankly was ill prepared to deal with. So, on this Father’s Day 2022, I felt like I wanted to write my thoughts down and share with the world, ok maybe not the world but those bored enough to read them.

My Dad was my best friend growing up. We had a lot of similar interests and enjoyed doing things together. I was a runner, he ran cross country and track. We both enjoyed being in the great outdoors hiking, camping, cross country skiing, bike riding, canoeing, and swimming. We were in Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts together - he was my scout leader while I participated and progressed through the scouting ranks culminating in being an Eagle Scout. We spent a great deal of time together including hunting where I learned a lot from my father about life, animals, strategy, waking up early and napping under a tree. I appreciated the time we had and the relationship that developed.

Unfortunately, that didn’t last. I realized my parents did not have the best relationship and when I made a mistake while in college I was shocked by my father’s reaction, it wasn’t supportive or understanding (this is key to my discussion about being a father later in the blog). This was a turning point for me and my relationship with my father. It was a hard change, something I wasn’t familiar with and it was just the beginning of a series of changes that I’m not so sure I navigated well, at times, but I learned a lot – a lot about my father, but a lot more about me and life.

For the first time, I felt I didn’t have the support I had taken for granted for so long. My parents always had their differences and I think my brother and I had a very good childhood despite those conflicts. Looking back, we were raised by two very different people that had very different strengths. Me, more so than my younger brother,, was the beneficiary of those strengths.. But when I no longer had my father’s support, which had always been present despite all my childish, stupid actions I had an overwhelming sense of loss. I couldn’t tell which way was up, having lost my sense of direction. When you are a kid, shit, when you are alive, we make mistakes – it’s the human condition, but if we have support, or an internal sense of direction, we live, we learn, we move on hoping to never make the same mistake twice. While I had my mother, my brother, family, and friends I came to realize the support my father provided kept me grounded and I had not yet developed a true internal sense of direction – I lived, I learned, I couldn’t move on. What was ultimately born of this was the development of my internal compass but what I lost was my father.

As I alluded to earlier, I had a series of conflicts with my father over the course of my 20s and into my 30s. My parents divorced, they had stayed together while my brother and I finished our education. I supported my mother during the divorce because she was, in my view, the wronged party and my father put me right in the middle of their divorce. I chose love and compassion that only my mother ever provided without hesitation – it was an easy call. Then my wife was pregnant with our son and at the request of my grandmother I forgave and opened my life back up to my father; this time to be disappointed that my son wasn’t to be a priority of his. He had moved on, remarried and his new family was a bigger priority than my son was. I had to make a decision: would I be flexible enough to allow my father to pick and choose when he was a grandfather to my son? I choose to NOT allow that and to protect my kiddo. Upon my divorce, my son’s mother reconnected with my father (she was looking for a sense of belonging and family that she didn’t have in her life) and he stepped back into our lives but nothing changed. So, I no longer speak to my father and sometimes I feel guilty, even shame, but I didn’t want to have a self-centered adult come and go when it was only convenient to him. Part time grandparenting doesn’t fly with me!

I’m sure there is a sizable population out there that have had similar experiences with their father or mother, but this was mine. The toughest part that weighed on me as I cut my father from my life was that my son would be robbed, robbed of at least one grandfather. Both of my grandfathers were phenomenal, and he might not get to have those same experiences, the same memories to reminisce about. Well, we do what we think is best and there are never perfect situations, a little bad comes with the good sometimes.

As previously mentioned, like an avalanche, these feelings and thoughts resurfaced after listening to some favorite songs of my father’s. This has given me pause to reflect on my ability to father. To become self-reflective in hopes that I can be the best father my son deserves, but I’m not sure I’m always succeeding.

Until recently, I have enjoyed every new change, every new experience, every new age my son has attained. While his mother has always wished he would be the small bundle of joy we brought home from the hospital, I’ve looked forward to him growing up, watching him mature into the young man he is. Admittedly, it hasn’t always been easy. Just when you think you have the whole parenting thing down, something would change and you would have to make an adjustment. It just didn’t seem like a BIG lift, it was manageable. This last year has proven otherwise. My sweet, kind, empathetic son has begun to grow distant, harder to talk to, more elusive - it’s official, he is a true teen! Life is now filled with quickly shifting moods, disagreeableness, challenging behavior, thoughtlessness, lack of motivation, pushing buttons and leveraging his clever mind to attempt to disrupt the rhythm we established for nearly 13 years. While it certainly seems like textbook teen behavior, I really was caught off guard and horribly unprepared. Not all is lost, we still have genuine moments of connection filled with love, laughter, and understanding. Unfortunately, the tide has turned and is now lopsided in the opposite direction it once was. Having been in education for so long, you would think I would have seen this coming - nope, not this guy!

Now that the initial shock has subsided, I’ve been researching and thinking more and more on how best to rectify the situation. The leading solution is to move away, far away and reconnect when he is in his late 20s or early 30s, that’s got to be when things get better, right!?!?! Well? Ok, probably not the best solution but it's an option. LOL So, what am I to do? I’ve always felt it is my responsibility, as an adult, to set a good example. I’ve also realized I have a lot of work to do there myself, I’m pretty close to being perfect but not quite there yet (take my word for it). I have decided that I will practice my patience, my listening, and my presence. I will always do my best to be here for my son when he needs me. I will be available for the text, call, or chat when he needs his father to listen and not judge, to guide and not tell him what to do, to provide the compassion he deserves. I will continue to embrace every new bump in the road with awe and amazement, an opportunity to learn and grow myself. I will let him know that I am interested in everything he does, because that is what interests him. Some would say I can be a bit pigheaded, I prefer to think I am focused and committed, committed to my son and will not allow a wedge to split us apart. He is my priority and the love I have for my son is limitless. Grace and understanding will guide me, even as we make mistakes, we will learn and he will always have my unending support. The other day my son got into some trouble at school, and he asked, “do you still love me?” I love you Aspen, always and forever!

NOTE: On a recent work trip to Colorado, I picked up the latest issue of Esquire, their Summer 2022 Issue. I didn’t have a book I wanted to bring along for the trip, so I looked at the airport and the magazine caught my attention because Elliott Page headlined the cover and I admire Elliot Page and his very public transition. Well, as I leafed through the magazine, I came across a small collection of short articles on fathers entitled “How We Dad Now”. How timely because I was just cooking up the idea for this blog about being a father. Well, one of the short articles, entitled “Is It Okay Not to Like My Kid Sometimes?” by food writer Jeff Gordinier really struck a chord. At the end of the article, he mentions how it is his responsibility to “build a bridge” to his picky eater son in hopes that overtime they connect. This was that profound AH HA moment for me. I’m writing this section of the blog before I write about being a father to my son, because this brought the clarity and focus I needed to outline my thoughts. I agree, it’s up to parents to build that bridge to their kids, not the other way around. My father never built a bridge to my brother, because they didn’t have common interests and that was all kinds of wrong. I’m NOT going to make that mistake with my son.

Below is the title to each one of the short articles in that Esquire collection that hit home for me. The articles are a near perfect reflection of being a father today written with honesty, humor, and some cold, hard truths too. If you get a chance, pick up the issue – it is worth the read.

Esquire Summer 2022 Issue – How We Dad Now

Do I Need to Choose Between My Child and My Passion?

Am I a Dork Just Because I’m a Dad?

Can I Be A Hot Dad?

Can I Connect With My Kids When Duty Calls?

Does My Kid Like My Quirks?

Is There Any Hope For Paternity Leave?

Is Granddadding As Rad As They Say?

What If My Kid Doesn’t Fit My Expectations?

How Will My Kids Memorialize Me?

Who’s In The New Class Of Living Dads?

Is It Okay Not to Like My Kid Sometimes?

Why Do Some Dads Have The Urge To Keep Making Kids?

Why Do My Kids Think My Taste Is Lame?

Is It Even Moral To Have A Kid In Today’s Unhinged World?

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