By ANTHONY CALABRESE, PHD, and PATRICIA CALABRESE, PMHNP-BC
Why turning into your father isn’t so bad
What was it like before you became a father? Nobody remembers. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a father, the fact is fatherhood changes you, and you are never quite the same person.
When kids are young, you never forget those round-the-clock responses like late-night bottle feedings, diaper changes and doctor or emergency room visits. As they get older, you still watch your favorite baseball or football team, but you might also find yourself watching cartoons for 10 minutes after your kid has left the room.
You balance your time with teacher meetings, volunteering for speech and debate or whatever club they decide to join and then driving them to and fro. The plans you had for the weekend change, the new grill you wanted to buy gets put on hold for “safety reasons,” the clean shirt you put on for work gets dirty.
Yes, fatherhood changes things, but in a good way. You come to realize that your decisions are not just about you — they involve others, and those decisions will have a lasting impact.
It is funny how you see a piece of yourself in your kids, and sometimes you think to yourself, “I thought that bad trait would end with me.” In the back of your mind is the ever-present thought that you never want your kid to hurt and you want to make sure they never feel pain, but it’s going to happen. How you react and put the situation in perspective can make all the difference.
Over time, you see their accomplishments. You see them struggle and it feels good when they succeed and you know you helped in getting them to their goal. But even when they don’t get there, it also feels good when you encourage them to try again. What happens is that you end up getting back as much as you’ve given.
In fact, their lives meld with yours, and eventually, you step back and let them gradually try things and make decisions. I remember one dad saying, “It’s OK when my kid fails, so he’ll know to try again.” Your children will eventually be independent and a father’s job is to provide them the skills to do so. Fatherhood may vary across cultures and generations, but it also has some shared values that are universal.
So who is a father? There is no one definition. A dad can be an educator. He teaches you how to throw a baseball and checks homework. A dad can be an organizer (making lists) and assigning duties: Wash the car, mow the lawn, paint the house. We all hated those lists. Then one day we find that we are making those same lists. We are turning into our fathers.
So what is a father? A father spends time with you, guides and teaches and always has ready some handy advice. So go ahead and make that list and be proud, and watch the next generation of list-makers learn the skill.
Dr. Anthony Calabrese is the director of outpatient services at Pine Grove Treatment Center, and his wife, Patricia Calabrese, is a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner who treats children, adolescents and young adults at Pine Grove’s outpatient services department.