No one tells you in clear, never-to-forget, dramatic fashion that you will not be able to fully protect your child as he works his way into the world beyond your control. Some of us are lucky enough to have that sort of realistic wisdom shared at the moment when we most need to hear it. Most of us, however, find ourselves winging it, hoping for the best, thinking we know what we’re doing, when we don’t.
As Father’s Day becomes a forgotten memory, I consider the idea that I have little control in my son’s life, and how this has been one of the hardest lessons to learn. And if you’re like me, you did your best, despite it being fraught with so many mistakes that you wished someone with some goddamned sense would have guided you along the way. You did your best, you think, and despite whatever precautions you thought you put in place, some of your worst nightmares still came true.
When I read a story about a father hurting and murdering his own child over a game or a father letting rage cause him to kill his daughter I don’t think about these fathers’ inability to control themselves as parents, as adults. Clearly, no father should ever hurt his child. Instead, I think about the other fathers, the ones who were the fathers to these deadly fathers. Maybe we imagine them as awful parents who begat more awful parents. Or maybe, like me, they hoped for the best for their own children.
No one showed me, as a developing human being, what it meant to be nurturing, and yet I found out how to bring this to my relationship with my son. No one taught me how to allow my son to express himself, and yet I found a way to create this type of space for him. No one showed me directly or indirectly how to bring many of the positive, reinforcing parenting behaviors that are supposed to help your child become a healthy and stable adult. Regardless, I found a way to do as much of this as possible.
Despite my best efforts, and my best intentions, not to mention so many sacrifices made on his behalf, so many prayers, so many hopes in my ability to help him turn out well, I found myself dealing with the very real fear of losing him to darkness and despair. If I hadn’t learned already that much of what happens to him and how he engages life is out of my control, the past three years certainly brought it home.
As fathers we like to believe we can protect our children, but protection is largely out of our control. We can do our best to safeguard when they are vulnerable, hold them when they need a crutch, prop them up when they fall, be there for them when they need guidance and support, but we will never be able to control the potential for darkness that lurks around the corner.
Darkness come from without in the form of violence, such as, or from within, in the form of emotional turmoil. We can’t control this. Friends and colleagues of mine have lost their children, and my hope for them, as it is for all fathers, is that they don’t blame themselves too harshly, if at all. Even when we do our best, the world conspires against our best efforts and our children suffer. We shouldn’t give up, just be aware that fatherhood has no control over tomorrow’s darkness. What we can control, however, is our ability to nurture, guide, and prepare our children, equipping them as best as we can to deal with the tragedies and turmoil that potentially await them.