Powerlessness and Being a Good Father

I’m in my sixties, our three daughters are all grown up and I’m at that stage where I ask myself “was I a good father”? This is a complicated question, since there’s no official manual for raising children and no specific list of criteria for providing a grade, A-F. The answer also depends on who you ask, the parent or the child. The more I think about it, the more my head aches. The most surprising thing I learned about being a good father is the level of powerlessness involved.   

I believe that being a good father means keeping my children safe. It also includes spending time with them and teaching them right from wrong, providing them guidance as they grow up. Since you probably don’t want to spend the next three hours reading this blog, I’m going to limit this discussion to the first point, keeping the children safe. I’ll leave the other two points for later. 

With respect to keeping them safe, I thought this would be a piece of cake. I was WRONG. I’m 6’7” tall, large and ferocious when it comes to protecting my daughters. When they were toddlers, I spent a lot of time following them around the house, bent over, arms stretched out to catch them if they fell. Not my finest hour. Explains my lower back problems today. 

When they actually did fall, due to their resilience they usually bounced off their butt back onto their feet, with no harm at all. They did fall, and I hardly ever caught them, my first taste of powerlessness and being a good father. 

Also, when they were small I thought it would be easy to just pick them up and move them out of harm’s way. I was WRONG again, and there are several examples to demonstrate my powerlessness in this area.

When my oldest daughter was six, we were sledding down a hill at the edge of our neighborhood that bordered on a patch of woods. The snow was deep, powdery and slick, perfect for sledding. About an hour into our adventure, she tripped and fell forward on her face in the snow. Since it was so deep, I didn’t think anything about it, just reached down and pulled her up to her feet. She started screaming, and I had no idea why until I saw the blood. Terrified by all the blood, I almost passed out and fell on my face into the snow.

As it turned out, the most bizarre thing had happened. She fell face first onto a small stick growing out of a tiny tree trunk hidden beneath the deep snow. The stick had gone through her lower lip, into her mouth and punctured the top of her mouth. When I pulled her out of the snow, I unknowingly ripped the stick out, resulting in a lot of bleeding and screaming. 

The weather had turned into a blizzard, and we drove her to the doctor in several feet of snow, pretty much the only vehicle on the road. Thank God she was alright, and the stick did not penetrate too far into the roof of her mouth. A few stitches in the lower lip and she was fine. I did not feel like a good father that day, but as I look back on it, there was nothing I could have done to prevent the accident. I was powerless.

When our middle daughter was five, I was playing with her in the front yard. I watched as she pushed a baby buggy, complete with plastic infant, down the sidewalk. That daughter only had one gear, go fast. She tripped on a crack in the sidewalk, fell forward and refused to let go of the baby carriage handle. So, she did a face plant on the cement.

Standing only a few feet away, I couldn’t do anything to prevent this from happening. She ended up with a knot on her forehead and a lot of scrapes and bleeding. Once again, we rushed her to the doctor, and she was fine. Once again, I felt so powerless standing a few feet away and unable to do anything. I did not feel like a good father.

When our youngest daughter was six I got a call from the elementary school where she was attending first grade. The principal told me that my daughter had been injured on the playground, and requested that I should come get her and perhaps take her to the doctor. He provided surprisingly few details and hung up before I could pursue the issue further. I rushed to the school, and when I entered the principal’s office, I almost passed out at what I saw. 

My daughter was sitting in a chair, obviously glad to see me, but she looked like an alien. She had fallen off the monkey bars, hit her face on one of the steel bars, and the right side of her face swelled and bulged out to an extent I didn’t think possible. My first inclination was to leave the room, scream, and then return. Not wanting to upset her any more than she was already upset, I had to stuff my terror deep down inside and act like I didn’t think she was going to die. 

I managed to hold it together, get her into the car and take her to the ER. They X-rayed her head, did some tests, and miraculously she was okay and her face and head were back to normal in a couple of days. We hid all the mirrors in the house until the swelling went down. Again, I felt completely powerless. I wasn’t even there when it happened, but I still did not feel like a good father. Wasn’t I supposed to have some control over my children’s safety?

There are other incidents as well, where I was unable to prevent accident and injury. One Saturday my wife was out grocery shopping and I was home alone with the girls. The oldest, thirteen at the time, was supposed to be watching the baby, 3, while I made some home repairs in the basement. I was paying her for her services. 

She bailed on me without my knowing it, and went to her room to talk to a friend on the phone. Meanwhile, our middle daughter, 11, thought it would be a good idea to put the 3-year-old on a plastic toy train engine designed to ride on and launch her off of the top step of the stairway to the first floor. I heard screaming, came running and found the toy train and 3-year-old at the bottom of the stairs. Fortunately, the heavily carpeted stairs prevented any serious injury. I’m guessing I shouldn’t have trusted the 13-year-old to keep an eye on things, but she had been perfectly dependable up until then. Did I mention I was paying her?

Then there was the jolly jumper incident. When the oldest was twelve and the youngest was nine months old, we bought a jolly jumper for Christmas. This consisted of a sort of torture device with a seat for baby attached to bungie cords, for mounting to the inside of a door frame. The baby, not yet able to walk, could be supported by the device, push off with the feet and bounce, getting them ready to walk. 

I attached the jolly jumper to the archway between the kitchen and the living room, placed the baby in the seat, and made the mistake of turning my head for a second. When I turned back, the twelve-year-old had the baby/seat pulled back far enough to launch her baby sister completely across the kitchen. 

Thank God in this case I was able to intervene, grabbing the baby before said launch and preventing major disaster. But, again, it was obvious how little control I really had over the safety of my children. It really is true that you only have to look away for a second for disaster to strike. Trying to be a good father, I discussed the obvious consequences of this action with the twelve-year-old, but I’m not sure to this day if it took. At 35, she might still put her 25-year-old sister in such a device and launch her into the air. I seem to be more powerless the older they get.

It’s also interesting to me that each of my three daughters has a list of the bad things dad did to her. The oldest daughter’s list includes the Halloween farm tour and the Snoopy skis. When she was nine, on Halloween I took her to a local farm horror walk. For a large fee, you could walk through a farm field and some woods and be scared by various witches, zombies, monsters and some guy with a chain saw. I took exception when one of the zombies grabbed my daughter and started dragging her into a corn field and chased him away.

When we finished the tour, I went to complain to the owner at the ticket booth. He pointed out the sign that indicated if you wanted the gentler tour you should buy your kid a two-dollar glow-in-the-dark necklace to wear. I hadn’t seen the sign, and I had spent all my cash on the tickets anyhow. So this went on her list.

The Snoopy ski ordeal involved my teaching her how to ski. We had these wooden children’s water skis that were tied together, designed to make it easy for kids to get up on the skis the first time. The first few tries, when my daughter fell forward she refused to let go of the rope. Until I could stop the boat, she was pulled along underwater kind of like a submarine. She would then come up sputtering and choking. This also went on the list.

Then for one of her early birthday parties at Chucky Cheese, I accidentally spilled iced tea on her pretty party dress. Also on the list.

The middle daughter’s list is similar. One Halloween when she was six, I took her trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. We went to one house, where the lady of the house had dressed up in a terrifying gorilla outfit. When they opened the door, she jumped out from behind the door, my daughter screamed, ran between my legs, and fled to hide behind a nearby tree. On the list.

For one of her early birthday parties, we went to her favorite local restaurant where they served excellent nachos. I somehow managed to spill a large Coke in her lap. Also on the list.

Then there’s the youngest daughter. I worked from a home office as a pharmaceutical consultant for most of her childhood. During one summer, I paid our middle daughter, in her early teens at the time, to watch the younger one during the day while I worked in my office downstairs. She was supposed to play games with her that included prizes, read to her and feed her lunch. 

As it turns out, the ‘babysitter’ spent most of her time in her room ignoring her little sister. She hardly ever fed her lunch, and apparently never played with her. The little one actually climbed onto the kitchen cabinet to get to the prize candies on top of the refrigerator. I had no way of knowing any of this, because the older daughter was out of the house at work, and the middle daughter lied about the whole thing and threatened the little one to keep her from telling me.

I finally found out the following winter when the middle daughter confessed. I’m amazed that I missed this one, but in fairness, at that time the middle daughter fibbed with the best of them. Definitely on the list. Also, come to think of it paying an older sister to baby sit, not a great idea.

The youngest daughter needed something else on her list. Since I had already done it to my other two daughters, on her birthday we took her to the theater to see her favorite Disney film and I spilled a large Coke in her lap. Unfortunately, it also spilled into her popcorn and we had soggy popcorn for the movie. On the list.

All I know is that I loved them, and hugged them, and kissed them and squeezed them, tried to protect them, and spent lots of time with them when they were children. Now they are all grown up, and it’s quite obvious that I am powerless to protect them. I am learning to place them in God’s hands and trust Him to watch over them. I do the things I can, and turn the rest over to God. He truly is a good father.

A few years ago I found out that the oldest daughter was driving around on tires that were completely bald, as in no tread at all. I pointed out that this was not a good idea, and she told me to mind my own business. I’ve discovered that giving unsolicited advice to adult daughters is not a path I want to go down any more. In this case there was real danger, and so I finally convinced her to let me buy her a new set of tires. Once replaced, I was able to sleep again. I guess I did manage to do something in this case. I felt like a good father, and the sleep was nice too.

The middle daughter married a man who, for some strange reason, feels it necessary to raise on the order of twenty-five Burmese pythons in their house, the same house where they’re raising small children. He seems to think he can make a fortune breeding the things. At some level I realize this isn’t any of my business, and it most certainly emphasizes my powerless over keeping my daughter, and her children, safe. I mentioned that I did not think this was a good idea, my daughter took exception to my unsolicited advice, and now our relationship is not the best, to say the least. 

Then there’s our youngest daughter, whose education in media arts and design led her to an exciting career in marketing, in New York City. I’m from the country, raised to believe that NYC is a dangerous place. I am very proud of her career success; she makes a lot more than I did at her age. But I am concerned that she lives in NYC. However, I know better than to try to advise her in this matter. And, in fact she was doing great, until the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic struck.

That’s kind of the ultimate evidence of my powerless. I have three adult daughters, in Kentucky, North Carolina and New York, and this worldwide pandemic hits. My wife and I are in our late sixties, one of the most vulnerable populations for this virus. There’s absolutely nothing that I can do to keep my daughters safe from this infectious pathogen, and I’m struggling with feeling like a good father. Hopefully the things that my wife and I taught them when they were children will help them to survive. We tried to teach them how to stay safe.

We pray, and pray, and pray for God to take care of them. We’re frustrated over our powerlessness to keep them safe, so we trust in God and my wife keeps sending them Omaha steaks. Silly, but it lets us feel like we are doing something, they’re eating well and I feel like a good father.  

Was I a good father, using the criteria of keeping them safe? Does the fact that they all have lists mean I wasn’t a good father? I have no freaking idea. Once they finished college, we gently pushed them out of the nest, tried to let them be responsible for their own actions as adults and love them. The good news, our daughters are adult, living, breathing, healthy, independent and functioning members of society, with memories that they were loved as children. I’ll take that as a win. Pretty soon it’ll be their turn to take care of us, and we’ll see what happens then.

If you liked this blog post, you might also enjoy my book, PLEASURIA; TAKE AS DIRECTED (Koehler Books), now reduced to $0.99 in advance of the sequel release. The book is available on Amazon at http://bit.ly/pleasuria