On being a good father

On being a good father

My son and me at his fifth grade graduation.

Father’s Day is upon us once again. And once again I ask myself: what makes a good father? Sure, Father’s day is a holiday, but is it really? It’s not as if the stores close up and there are parades or free events at the local park.

Father’s Day is not the Fourth of July, and it certainly isn’t on par with Mother’s Day, which has a lot more fanfare around it. It’s just a random Sunday when fathers like myself are supposed to get breakfast in bed and bond with their kids for the rest of the day.

I get to spend the entire Sunday with my son. I share custody with my ex-wife. We each get to have our child at home every other week. So it’s not as if I don’t get to see him that often. Still, we don’t always get a full day to spend together without other people around. This Father’s Day, however, it’ll be just my boy and me.

When I was growing up, both my parents worked a lot. They were immigrants and I guess the old-school style was to let your kids do their thing while the grownups worked hard. They had very little free time. Nowadays, children have more things on their planner than their own parents. Back then, my father was AWOL, but in a good way. Not having him around gave us kids freedom to play and cause trouble we would have otherwise avoided. But when my father did come and hang out, kicking the soccer ball in the back yard or sitting with us to watch an episode of Lost in Space, it felt extra special.

Because I don’t want to be as absent from my son’s life as my father was from mine much of the time, I struggle to divide my time and attention between work and parenting. And yet, when the day comes to an end, after my son goes to sleep or when he goes to his mother’s house for the week, I feel a pang of guilt. It’s if I don’t do enough with him. But he’s going on twelve, and he loves playing with other kids. He doesn’t need me to be on top of him at all times.

I give my son as much freedom as possible. I believe he should discover the world on his own, make mistakes, learn from them and then continue exploring. My role as a father is to provide for him, to watch him do silly stuff, and to share occasional nuggets of wisdom. You know: father knows best kind of stuff. But can I do more? Should I do more?

Also read: My daughter’s first dance

On being a good father

Goofing off after fifth grade graduation.

These days, it seems many of us feel we fall short as parents. We want to be involved in every facet of our kids’ lives. My big conundrum is always whether I’m doing too much or too little. Between all the electronic gizmos and planned games and outings for the kids, when do they get to just hang out and use their imagination?

A few years ago I spent Father’s Day throwing a boomerang with my son, and later playing in the pool. We had a good time, no doubt. And yet I wonder what exactly is the role of the father. Did I do enough that day? Do I do enough every day? How can I raise a solid boy who will cherish the memories and appreciate his happy childhood?

I suppose that depends on the boy. Perception is a big part of the equation here. I could spend the whole weekend by his side, and he might still feel as though I were absent. But then, I could be away at work all day, and he might not miss me that much.

I never faulted my father for not being around when I was a young boy. What I took away from that experience was the decision that when I grew up, I would work hard, provide for my family, and enjoy them thoroughly during our vacations.

Things have changed since I was a kid. When I played soccer in the yard with my friends, there were no parents around. We settled our disagreements on the field, like, ahem, men. On the other hand, a few years ago my son was taking soccer lessons and some kids’ parents got into a fight. There were a lot of cussing involved, but no punches. I could never imagine my father arguing with another parent about a soccer game when I was a boy. It seems so trivial.

When it comes to raising children there are no answers, but a lot of questions. Yet, when my son gives me a hug and tells me he loves me, I know he’s doing okay, that I’m raising him right.

Phillippe Diederich

Phillippe Diederich is a bilingual author and photographer born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Mexico City and Miami. His photography has appeared in The New York Times, Time magazine, U.S. News and World Report and other national publications. Phillippe's novels Sofrito and Playing for the Devil's Fire are both published by Cinco Puntos Press. He is the recipient of a PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship and the Editor-in-Chief of Viva Fifty!

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