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Fathering As A Team Sport
This past weekend I had the honor of participating in the first Fathering Forum Weekend. It was held in New York City. More than 20 men came together to explore, probe, question and understand the experience of fathering. The concept was fairly simple, Fathering is a team sport. Even a man who is not a biological father has the opportunity to father a child or another person. Sometimes that person is one’s own father.
If the concept of fathering one’s own father is a confusing concept, look at it this way, being a father is being an example, a provider, a role model, a source of inspiration on the front lines of life. By that I mean it is knowing that you actions are having a direct impact on another. It is somewhat different from grandfathering which is the process of having the same opportunity to have an impact but to do so while observing things one step removed, from the balcony so to speak. It is the difference between fully owning your choices because you know you have to live with them versus being able to tinker and noodle knowing full well you get to go home after weekend. So in a lot of respects we are all also grandfathers because we have all had occasion to offer something knowing full well it is offered only as a gift.
Fathers get to give gifts as well but they are sometimes tangled with issues of consistency — if I respond this way today, am I prepared to respond the same each and every day? And what if I don’t? Fathers are also charged with the immediacy of their actions. We tend to be hard wired to respond in the moment. Rarely does a father have the luxury or some would say wisdom to say, “his is an interesting set of circumstances, let me dwell on it and I’ll get back to you.”
So that being said what did we do at the fathering forum this weekend?
Like any good team we practiced. Mostly in posing the questions we knew would eventually come up. We were not foolish enough to attempt to answer the questions because those answers differ based on a whole slew of variables, your own personality, the personality and age of your child, the environment, etc. So in practicing the question we hopefully were ready to react. Much the same as a batter knows how to react to a curve ball. No two pitches cross the plate in the exact same manner, so for a hitter to assume that every time a curve is thrown all he needs to do is swing at the same time in the same spot is just foolish. It is the same for fathering.
The beauty of this weekend was that the men in the room varied in age from 18 to 70. Our backgrounds were markedly distinct, as was our ethnicity, professions, education and relationship to parenting. It is what makes a really great team. We had our point guards; our forwards and our centers and we each respected that every man had a different way of handling the ball. My way might not necessarily work for the next man but it was okay for him to have a chance to try my cross-over move and see how it felt. And like any good team we had great coaches and of course we recognized that at any given time the role of coach and pupil could shift.
The final piece the weekend provided to us was a chance to get clean with our emotional baggage. So much of what I do is driven by what was done to me. This weekend provided the participants a chance to connect with that “what has been to me” stuff so that men were acting from their commitment rather than reacting to the past. Men also came to begin to appreciate that their children are not necessarily “mini-me’s” so that a man who loves adventure should not assume his child would follow suit. The key is in the listening and being able to hear where you child, either explicitly or subtly, is saying, “dad this is not for me” while also being ready to maximize those moments where your passions intersect.
Like any good game, fathering is not easily mastered. It can be trying and challenging. It can be exhilarating and scary, all at the same time. But one thing is clear it is a game that is best played and celebrated as a team.