Being a father is a full-time endeavor, one that never ceases and always changes as the kids grow. There will be occasions when you simply don’t do well and feel real guilt about how you acted or responded to a situation. Nobody talks about those moments and they do stay with you. While making notes for Tackling Major Projects With Kids Around, I had to consider what I believe to be my worst moment and greatest regret as a father.
The front yard of our old house was very plain and sloped considerably in two different directions. The only path from the sidewalk to the front porch consisted of some broken, partially covered flagstones that had been thrown in the grass by the previous owner and it was apparent that the whole front needed work. My wife wanted a concrete walkway, with steps, that ran from porch to sidewalk in a way that best utilized the yard’s topography. Because I spent several summers in college pouring concrete for a construction company, I took on the project myself. I reacquainted myself with the work involved, took the necessary measurements and laid out the plans accordingly. What I didn’t do was account for the fact that I was a stay-at-home father with three children and a hard-working spouse. I was an idiot.
Let me tell you a little something about concrete. It responds badly to hot weather. You can add all of the water you want in the mixer and as soon as it’s poured, it will be as though there’s a giant invisible straw sucking out the moisture and making it impossible with which to work. That means that the most difficult time is in the height of summer, which is about when my own project was ready to pour.
My idiocy was compounded by failing to start early enough to beat that stretch and it meant that I drove myself to get the job done, even bringing in a teenager to help with the heavy digging and pouring. But that need to see the job done meant that I was a bastard when it came to letting the kids help and my eldest son – then a third grader – desperately wanted to help his father.
I was curt with his questions and impatient with his efforts when he tried to help. I never verbally berated him but my looks and demeanor were clear when I thought that he was in the way and I now recall how his face looked when I brusquely ordered him to move and then complained about what had to happen to get this project moving. The project was successfully completed but I was a true bastard in doing it.
Both my sister and I were at our father’s side when he died from lung cancer. In the hours before his death, he was conscious and coherent while he leaned against us and labored to breathe before his body finally succumbed to the effort. He managed to speak and I was dumbfounded when he apologized to us for his failings as a father. His comment was, I’m sorry that I was a royal horse’s ass sometimes. Both of us loved him dearly and considered him to be an excellent father. Yet in his last moments, he could only reflect on those occasions when he had fallen short.
None of us are perfect. We’re going to have some bad instances but that shouldn’t define us as failures. What makes us failures are not acknowledging our mistakes and learning from them, and ultimately, walking away from our responsibilities as fathers.
I learned from my father’s example yet again. But instead of waiting for my deathbed, I apologized to my now-older son last night.