Our Father - The Jose Vilson

Our Father

by Jose Vilson on February 27, 2008

Father’s Hand

I wasn’t supposed to write tonight, but I’m moved again.Excuse me for getting a little too personal, but over the last week, I’ve noticed the vital role that fathers play in their offspring’s role. Unfortunately, we still have fathers who won’t own up to being fathers, mothers who berate fathers regardless of how integral a person that man is, fathers who want to be great fathers but never learned, fathers who never wanted to be fathers to begin with but ended up liking it, fathers who love, who kill, who cheat, who work until their bones show, fathers who abuse their positions in life by projecting death, and fathers who despite their faults are fathers to their children.

Some social scientists and psychologists point to how many boys watch their own mothers and sisters go through some sort of abuse and at some point sympathizing with the mother but eventually turning on the victim and wondering how they could allow that to happen. When they grow up, they go on to mimic the behaviors they observed, subconsciously becoming the person they wish they weren’t, but isn’t that the beauty? It leads me to believe that there’s a potential, then, to reverse the negative, and redefine the role of a father, even in the most dire of straits.

This weekend, for instance, I got the chance to go see my fully recovered father in Miami, as I mentioned before. The effect he’s had on his children is profound, even when they don’t realize it themselves. The way they project themselves and treat others has traces of my father all over it. All of his children have a serious sense of humor and a charm about us that translates socially. Yet, each of us have a varying degree of cynicism towards the world, and that comes through in the sarcasm and insecurities some of us display (or displayed). Maybe it’s the way some of us belittle others, or aggrandize ourselves when it’s not that necessary. As water beings, we have a constant need to find a balance of some sort, and by going to one extreme, we can balance out the other extreme. Yet, that’s a reflection of whatever role our father played in our lives, how our mothers reacted to his oscillating presence, and how / if we ever grew from that experience.

Yet, in his most dire moment, close to death, we still made our presence felt near his bed in that ICU, hovering around him, in pain. Fortunately for us, he came back to consciousness. I can’t say the same for one of my good friends. Kel wrote a eulogy to his father on his Xanga, and honestly, it really cut me deep:

However, I did come to know that my father lived life by his own set of rules. And in accordance with his rules decided it was best to pursue his relationship with god on his own terms. In fact, my father said very little to me about life in general. My father never asked me if I did my homework or anything of that nature, which for a child I considered weird. Though my father never said much to me I was fortunate enough to observe his actions and decide for myself if those were actions I wanted to replicate. To some this may be a reckless, haphazard means of parenting, but I will say that it allowed me to become a man in my own right in accordance to my own precepts.

Damn. Underneath his admittedly apathetic exterior lies a man whose soul and heart no one could capture. He lives by his own rules, and thinks as critically as any human being as I’ve ever met. I discover today that influence is paternally genetic. It also makes me wonder if I’m ready to be a father. I’m already a bit of a perfectionist, and my experiences have only led me to believe strongly in the idea of a father, whatever that might mean when I’m ready. I’m far from. I have an ideal for what I want to be as a father, consisting of a boundless list of “not”‘s and “don’t”s. Most of my friends have a negative experience with their father, but the ones who had a father in their family are as well-adjusted as people get.

So while I send my friend his condolences over the loss of his father and appreciate the traits I adapted from my father, I try to redefine for myself what a father means these days. Because G_d forbid if I dishonor the title of a father. It’s not just about being 1/2 of someone’s DNA: it’s helping to compose your offspring’s whole humanity.

jose, who’s still trying to understand his own father’s impact on his life …

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Damian February 28, 2008 at 9:31 am

Your last sentence nails it; what was that line about “any fool with a dick can make a baby…”?

After my son was born, I was talking to a friend (also a father) about how there’s something about being a daddy that is just indescribable. We both tried to define it, but after stops & starts – “It’s like you…. and you feel like…. but you can’t…. and you know that…”, we just sat there, two intelligent people (both English teachers, for extra irony points), unable to articulate the emotions we felt, but smiling and nodding because we just knew what the other meant.

With no disrespect to the profession, I used to think that teaching was the highest calling. My mindset has shifted since having children of my own. With a little boy and just recently a little girl, I feel like I now have the most joyous burden to bear for the rest of my life. After just three years, I can’t (or don’t want to) imagine my life any other way.

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Damian February 28, 2008 at 9:34 am

Oh, one other thought – my recently-passed mother-in-law used to say, “You either unconsciously become like your parents, or you consciously don’t.” I’ve picked & chosen the traits of my dad that I want to emulate and bring to my own parenting style, and I’ve also identified the things that I’m going to do differently.

It makes me wonder what about my or my wife’s parenting styles that our kids will take with them and what they’ll decide was no good.

This is no job for perfectionists, that’s for sure.

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Amauri T. February 28, 2008 at 9:45 am

Hey Jose — I noticed you refer to people as ‘integral’ in these last couple of posts and I was curious what you mean by that.

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Jose February 28, 2008 at 10:15 am

By integral, I do mean whole, or a person with integrity. Good question, Amauri. I could have also used virtuous, but that sounds … a little more holy than I wanted. People with integrity aren’t perfect, but there’s something solid about them.

Damian, I knew you’d have the right comment for this one. As a father, you have an insight that can’t be reached.

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pre_k February 28, 2008 at 5:11 pm

glad to read that your father has recovered.

I cannot even imagine being a father. honestly, I don’t think i can handle all that it requires. personally my standards for parenting are too high and if i am unable to meet such standards then i would rather not have any children. I can only seek to be a positive influence to those children of mine (nieces and nephews and godson) who are already here.

well before i make a post in your comment box i will say that this was an excellent post.

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e February 29, 2008 at 2:11 pm

oh wow jose. this hit home. fathers, man. if they only knew how much their simple presence matters…

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Tamara Eden March 1, 2008 at 11:00 pm

Hey there,

Forgive me in advance…but you’ve been tagged. Come check it out at my blog. I rarely do this, so play along…

Thanks :)

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LuzMaria March 9, 2008 at 9:11 pm

As always, your wring hits a nerve. I decided to share from a daughter’s perspective as to how I view the father issue.
The following excerpt really resonated with me, “fathers who never wanted to be fathers to begin with but ended up liking it, fathers who love, who kill, who cheat, who work until their bones show,” because it made me think of my dad. When I think of him as a father, I have to admit that I was pretty lucky. Even though I was not planned, he really stood up to the plate. Dad always managed to have two or three jobs to provide for the family. I look at his hands and I see the callouses, the skin is dried and cracked from cleaning a bank for over thirty years. I look at his eyes and the lines of his face and see the defeat, the emptiness, and the want for more.

When I think of the man, I have to admit that he is not the best role model. And as a result, it has created an unspoken tension between us. It makes me wonder how much of his traits have I inherited or actually emulate in my relationships. I also make a conscious effort to gravitate to men that are not like my father. Patterns are sometimes hard to break, but they have to if there is too much pain in the mix.

Again, your post is incredibly powerful and raises many questions.

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