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How I Stopped Hating Fathers

How I Stopped Hating Fathers

Ned Plimpton: Why didn’t you ever try to contact me?
Steve Zissou: Because I hate fathers, and I never wanted to be one.
From 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

I grew up in 1970s America; not exactly the most evolved times for fathers. From both a historical, as well as an empirical, perspective it was an era of unrepentant self-gratification, personal confusion and soul searching. These elements ideally made for significantly more actualized adults, but fathers? Not so much. So, as a young boy, I was awash in a parade of fathers, mother’s boyfriends, and men fashioning themselves as de facto fathers in absentia, and I quickly learned that nearly all of these men, while engaging on some level, left something great to be desired. This example, or lack thereof, rendered me less than excited about the prospect of being a father myself.

Several years on, when I saw Bill Murray’s character of Steve Zissou deliver the above rationale to his estranged on-screen son, I naturally laughed, but also felt a jolt of sadness as the line resonated deep within me. Fathers, as a group representing authority, guidance, and reverence, were not necessarily people to hate, but they did nothing to goad me into desiring fatherhood for myself. Unless of course I adopted the tact of parenting in opposition to all that I had witnessed during my tenuous upbringing. Little did I know at the time I was less than two years away from joining the legions of the despised.

From the vantage point of being a father, now for about six years, I could say the institution needed an overhaul when I climbed aboard. I would like to say that I grabbed the helm and reinvented fatherhood as a kinder and gentler endeavor fueled by a determined grace and acumen, with all of the selfish folly left behind on the cutting room floor. However that would be wholly inaccurate. Every moment of the day, whether I am actively or passively parenting, I am meeting with the shadows of fathers that had preceded me. I catch a flash of my son’s downcast eyes as I try to gently impart some urgent, but ramshackle, nugget of wisdom and it is as if someone had prankishly inverted the mirror and made me foreman of a factory that produces a product I have never actually seen.

The fact is parenthood, fatherhood in particular, is a dark endeavor. Not in the sense that becoming a parent locates you in a place of irrevocable bleakness. It is more like traversing a locale lacking any perceptible roadmap or certainty, but nevertheless finding yourself thoroughly entertained, if not charmed, throughout. You spend 15 anticipatory minutes holding together the scattered remains of a broken puppet, hoping the glue will set and hold long enough to bring a renewed sense of joy to a boy who lost something very dear to him, and your child repays you by hugging your leg as if you were a pylon and he was anchoring himself to you to ride out a hurricane. Fatherhood reframes our notion of ourselves as men (or boys) and moves us forward with the little experiences and lessons that add up to something in retrospect; something like miles that are never fully redeemed. You throw yourself into the effort and heap upon it all of the care, tenderness, inspiration, and guidance you lacked as a child in hopes that you are providing a vast improvement upon what you endured.

So does this move us fathers toward some more refined notion or actualized identity of true parenting? Sure it does, just like jumping gets you closer to the sun.

Read more: Children, Family, Holidays, Life, Men's Health, Parenting at the Crossroads, Relationships, , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

44 comments

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6:04PM PST on Jan 9, 2014

IT IS TIME THAT MORE GUYS NEED TO STEP IN LIKE YOU DID AND TAKE ON THE FATHER FIGURE TO THE CHILDREN.
THERE ARE SO MANY KIDS THAT JUST WANT A DAD AND FOR SOME REASON THE MEN WALKED OUT ON THEM OR THE KIDS DON'T KNOW WHO HE IS.
I AM GLAD MY FATHER STUCK AROUND. I HAVE A LOT OF MEMORIES, BUT I REGRET THAT WE DID NOT GET TO SPEND A LOT OF TIME TOGETHER. HE DIED AT 44 YEARS OLD.
THANK YOU GENTLEMEN AND DADS PLEASE TAKE A STAND. DON'T LEAVE.

8:49PM PDT on Jun 16, 2013

Enjoyed this very much! Thanks for sharing.

5:42PM PDT on Aug 19, 2012

thanks. i may not have had the best male roll models till later childhood, but I have a man now who is what a father should be :)

8:45AM PDT on Jun 28, 2012

Sounds like you're a better father than you give yourself credit for - and maybe your Dad was too? ?

2:05AM PDT on Jun 22, 2012

Great article thanks for sharing

12:54AM PDT on Jun 22, 2012

Thank you, interesting article.

Sadly with the high divorce/parental seperation rates today many children are not as close to the fathers as they could be.

10:22AM PDT on Jun 20, 2012

Thankyou for the story. I had a fantastic dad, he was sick most of my life, but was always there for me and I'll never forget how much he gave me from his heart!

5:45AM PDT on Jun 20, 2012

I am afraid its a lost battle..........and the war too :(

8:54PM PDT on Jun 19, 2012

What helped me with my dad was recovery. It began when I was around two or three years sober. I learned the ONLY similarity between us was our disease of Alcoholism, that was it. When I finished my fourth step is when I experienced freedom from him. Years(like 17) later I watched Joyce Meyer. She helped me to forgive him. I can honestly say I forgive him for grooming me and all the other things. This is my experience and I wish it all on everyone that reads the story.

11:12AM PDT on Jun 19, 2012

I constantly pray I will never have to be a parent. I'm convinced it is the hardest and scariest job in the world. Kudos to those who are tough enough.

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