Doing the Best We Can
Recently we celebrated Father's Day. This year, my youngest son, Dan, and I spent it together in Colorado – just the two of us. We were able to talk: me as a father of grown sons; and him the father of two small boys. But we also did a lot of talking about our roles. Not only did we talk a lot about our roles as fathers, but also our observation as sons.
I usually get up early in the morning and do my reading and writing. On Father's Day I recalled both of my fathers: my natural father, and my stepfather. My parents were divorced when I was about ten years old and a couple years later, after remarrying, my mom, stepfather and I moved to Kansas from Texas. My father continued to live in Texas. Contrary to what you hear in a lot of divorces, my parents never bad-mouthed each other in front of me. There was none of that "stuff" you hear about in divorces.
I think as I was growing up, I must of really have struggled with the separation from my father. It would seem like the time and physical distance, as well as the emotional distance, created a sometimes impenetrable barrier. And I am sure it made it really hard for him that every time he saw me, I was a different person as I grew up.
My stepfather, Andy, was always supportive of me, but he was also supportive of my father. Andy loved me deeply, as a son, and was always, always there for me. But at the same time, he supported my father, insisting my father was my dad and that he, Andy, did not want to replace him. But Andy knew that I was frustrated in my distanced relationship with my father.
As I set down this Father's Day and was reading and writing, and after thinking about some of my conversations with my son, I recalled a conversation that I had with my stepfather over 50 years ago. He said, "Randy, your dad is doing the best he can in the best way he knows how, given what he knows." As I thought of that, I realized how profound it was then and how much of an epiphany it was now. It applies to so many things.
I meet with families on their journey. Most families have found that not only is the journey not a clear path, but many times it is unchartered. Yet I hear, "Well I should have…" or "I should have had a better relationship with…", and probably the most difficult for me, "I wish I could have told Dad before he got dementia…".
When I think back on my youth, I realize now that my dad had never been married before, he had never been divorced, he had never been separated from his children, he had never been 800 miles away, he never thought he would see his children once or twice a year. But as Andy said, "He did the best he could with what he had, given what he knew." I know that he tried hard.
People that know me know that I do not like to look back and have regrets. I am where I am. When I talk to families that express those regrets, I always try to remind them about where they are now. No matter how they got there, they are where they are. They did the best that they could, in the way they could, and in the best way they knew how.
I really think it is wonderful when I have families that reflect on that; they went through some tough times, but they made it through. They were the best father, the best wife, the best mother that they could be. We all learn from that, and it all makes us better and richer.
Though Father's Day has passed, it is a wonderful time to appreciate what our fathers and mothers have done for us and how they guide us to this day; and how they did the best they could the best way they knew how, given what they knew.