I didn’t respect my dad until it was too late.
I didn’t give him a hard time or ignore all his advice or completely fail to appreciate how hard he worked to keep a roof over our heads. I didn’t tell him to go jump in a lake, as I’ve seen others do. I just knew I was better than him. That’s all.
It was easy to do. All those crazy, silly, sometimes scary things that made Dad Dad were just, you know, Dad things. Simple as that.
My dad died when he was 83. It was a hard time for my sister and me but, by God’s grace, I had started to wise up. A little. After all, here I was, a 53-year-old man with a wife and a job and kids and a mortgage, ambitions on hold while all that gets taken care of, and now this. There was math to do and time to be spent and emotions to balance or keep in check while he went through the horrifying process of dying like a fighter and the only options and decisions available to us were bad ones.
The hospice called in the middle of the night to tell me he died and I should come and say goodbye. He looked peaceful. All that struggle is over stuff was true enough but I could only hope his eternity was equally peaceful. I had no control over that. The only thing I had the power to control was the way I’d treated him for half a century.
Maybe if we’re supposed to evaluate our lives in comparison to others I can say, “Not bad,” but the reality is I have nothing to be proud of. Know how I know? I’m a dad, that’s how. I’m on the receiving end. I know what dads need to be dads and I gave precious little of it to mine.
You can’t be a parent without the respect of your children. It’s that simple and that basic. Neither can you “earn” the respect of people just entering the world, with no standard apart from their constantly shifting moods and desires. They’re new. They don’t know the ropes. They have to be trained into things like respect and wisdom and love and concern for others. From the moment their lives begin they owe you literally everything but it takes years and years for them to grow into the recognition of the simple truth. That’s why we are commanded to honor our fathers and mothers right now rather than waiting until we are persuaded that they deserve it. They will never reach whatever cockamamie “standard” we form out of our youthful ignorance and self-centered rationalizations. By the time they “earn” our respect, our basis for that respect is corrupted like a bad computer file, riddled with our own patchwork of baseless expectations and self-conceived blindness to true value.
If we withhold respect then we are disrespectful. We prefer the ego-stroking satisfaction of judgement to the nourishment of love.
Nothing cripples a man like knowing he’s not respected by his kids. It’s the second worst thing in the world for him. The worst thing in the world is knowing he’s powerless to compel respect for Mom. There is no child-rearing formula, no strategic reasoning, no magical Biblical principles or parental-empowerment snake oil that can overcome a child’s insistence on not respecting Mom. They don’t have to if they don’t want to and you can’t make ‘em.
A dad can take it, if he has to. Even if he’s crippled, he can still get up and go to work and pray for his kids and have faith and look at things “philosophically.” But he can’t live with disrespect aimed at the woman he loves. He can’t live with the inability to protect her. He can’t.
Your kids are the only people in the world with the power to render you truly powerless and actually reduce you to failure.
I don’t know how much of this kind of stuff went through my dad’s old school head back when I was better than him but this post isn’t really about him. I just know I did these things, sometimes gleefully, always with the unquestioned assurance of my superiority. Now that I know better, it’s too late. Now that I have enough life behind me to review and reflect upon I find regret.
You may think regret is one of the negatives, like anxiety or envy or self-doubt. The problem with regret is that it’s legitimate. It’s a simple response to the truth. If the object of your regret has departed this earth, there is no remedy. I will never be able to make things right. My dad is not looking down from heaven or watching over me, hanging on my every word. We all know it doesn’t work that way no matter how many pretty things we tell each other on Facebook.
Gone is gone.