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What a father needs – friends, family and…Google?

January 17, 2012

What a father needs- friends, family…Google?                 as published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

At 11:15 p.m. I am rocked out of bed by our Jetta wagon’s blaring security alarm.

I stumble into the kitchen, my wife and kids apparently oblivious to the noise. I know the locked car in the locked attached garage is in no danger of theft. I grab the key, switch off the alarm and return to bed.

But before midnight, this scene replays a half dozen times. At first I am annoyed, then amused, then I begin muttering words I don’t speak in front of my kids.

Begrudgingly, I don my problem-solver hat. While mothers wear problem-solver hats, too, car maintenance and repair often lands on the Daddy-Do List – especially when the alarm is going off, repeatedly, and mother is sound asleep.

As a 21st-century father and problem-solver, I open my trusted toolbox and type Google. I see I am not the first person to have this nocturnal experience with a Jetta wagon anti-theft device.

One blog post was time-stamped 3:10 a.m. A mid-morning response to that post offered a decisively simple solution. It was no doubt written by someone who was clear-minded from an undisturbed night of rest.

In my boxers, T-shirt and wool hat, I shuffle into the chilly garage and dig out my old-fashioned toolbox. With socket wrench in hand, I disconnect the positive lead to the battery. Problem solved – for tonight – and with a modest sense of accomplishment, I return to a warm bed.

Cars aside, father-as-problem-solver emerged as a theme when I recently hosted a conversation with a handful of men at the Northampton Senior Center. These men, roughly 60 to 80 years old, had each fathered between two and six children. Collectively, they had a gaggle of grandchildren.

They brimmed with pride about their family roles as problem-solvers. One gentleman summed it up nicely: “It’s something where you get up every morning and try to solve the problems of that day and tomorrow the problems will be different and you still won’t know what you’re doing.”

Picking up the thread, I asked if others could relate. Yes, indeed, they could.

“I did not know anything about being a father,” said one man.

Another lamented that he had gone to school, taken courses and read books, but was never trained for his most important role: fatherhood.

A man who characterized his younger self as a tough military sergeant and competitor in chain-saw-wielding events, said “Fatherhood was really scary … I was scared to death of my baby; wondering, what do I do?”

The take-away message: Fathers need emotional support, and in greater doses than they have traditionally sought or received.

These men did not enjoy the benefits of Web surfing or insights gleaned from a growing collection of daddy blogs. Today, Google or YouTube searches on fatherhood and parenting tips churn up a dizzying array of resources.

Still, even most of the tech-savvy fathers I know report feelings of inadequacy – the same feelings expressed by men of their parents’ generation. My experience with the elder fathers suggests that gathering dads to talk about fatherhood could ease these concerns.

Whatever insights about fatherhood my generation may offer in our later years, I doubt Google will be mentioned as an essential tool. Technology can be helpful – particularly in the middle of the night – but it can’t replace a father’s need for the support of family, friends and neighbors.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. teremann permalink
    January 18, 2012 3:18 pm

    Thanks for letting me know about this. I will pass it on to some dad’s I know. Wishing you the best and liking the articles I have read here. Miss you and Lori too.

  2. February 23, 2012 7:07 pm

    John, these posts are so genuine, funny and touching. Dave passes them on to me, and I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy them. Mothers would love to read them too. And you are NOT alone feeling inadequate as fathers, I think mothers feel this every moment of every waking day. Granted we have more cultural and social awareness and advice surrounding every day issues that mothers face raising their children, but although we may “know” more innately, or have been taught by the women in our families it does not come close to helping the reality seem less overwhelming. In fact, I think now we are raised to assume we can “do it all” have a successful career and be fantastic mothers and the reality that comes later can feel devastating. We are essentially lied to all our lives by our culture and society to think this is truly possible to attain and it has terrible repercussions later on for some of us. Regrets, resentments etc. So, know that women empathize with some of your struggles more than you may realize and that we are proud of our generation of men who are working to be so aware and “there for” their children and their spouses. You’re doing a great job!

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