Sunday, June 16, 2013

The three men who taught me how to be a dad: Ward Cleaver, Atticus Finch, and Benjamin Sisko

Growing up, I never had a good fathering role model. My dad was pretty much a disaster as a father. So, I had to look elsewhere for fatherly role models. Like a lot of people in my generation, I found them in popular culture. There were three people who taught me most of what little I know about being a dad: Ward Cleaver, Atticus Finch, and Benjamin Sisko.

I learned two main things from Wally and Beaver Cleaver's dad: Always keep calm, and don't embarrass your kids in front of their friends. Because no matter what shenanigans Wally and Beaver got into, Ward always managed to handle it without yelling and hitting.

And I remember this one episode, when Wally was getting a little older and starting to shave, he borrowed his dad's razor without asking and used his last razor blade. So Ward was really mad, and he bawled out Wally right in front of his friends, including saying, "You don't even need to shave yet, anyway." How humiliating.

Well, Ward felt bad about that, so later in the show he made up for it. Ward and Wally were at a barbershop, and when some of Wally's friends came in, Ward told the barber to give Wally a shave, proving to the friends that he does need to shave, after all.

So, I've tried to stay calm and to avoid getting on my kids in front of their friends. Not sure how well I did at the former, but I think I did pretty well at the latter (to the point where my kids recognized it and sometimes tried to take advantage of it ha-ha-ha).

Atticus Finch was the one fictional father who actually made me envious. After I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was 10, I used to wish I could trade my real dad for him. I loved the way Atticus talked to Jem and Scout. What I learned about parenting from him was this: Children can be treated as intelligent beings who are capable of rational thought and understanding. You can actually explain things to them, instead of just bossing them around.
Sisko is the only one of these three fictional dads that I first encountered after I had already become a father myself. I rather envied the affectionate nature of his relationship with his son. I wished that I could have more hugs and kisses with my kids than I do, but that's just not my way. What he did demonstrate, though, was that a father should support his child's ambitions, not his own ambitions for his child. Sisko hoped that his son, Jake, would follow in his footsteps, enter Starfleet academy, and become an officer like him. But Jake only ever wanted to be a writer. And Sisko was nothing but supportive of his ambition ever after.

The first time I really had to apply that was, somewhat ironically, when my children began to distance themselves from the (Mormon) church in which we were bringing/had brought them up. Although today I'm proud of them for overcoming their lifelong indoctrination at such young ages and recognizing the church for what it really is well before I did, at the time I was still a believer and I found their disbelief somewhat wrenching. But, like Sisko, I recognized that they have to find their own way and their own path in life, and I tried to be supportive and I refrained from placing heavy pressure on them. So their growing disbelief didn't turn into the kind of giant family conflict that so often erupts in such situations.

I imagine that Avery Brooks, who played Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space 9, would probably be pleased to know that his portrayal of Benjamin Sisko as a father had such a positive impact on one family's life.

I should also add that my longtime style probably isn't a coincidence, either (although I could wish that my head was a little shinier).


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