What to do, what not to do, what the hell it all means – these thoughts on being a father from a range of wise men may help you sort the answers to those questions.
1. Famously acerbic English poet Philip Larkin pithily summarised the weight of both nature and nurture when it comes to parenting in the opening lines to his timeless poem, This Be The Verse.
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad / They may not mean to, but they do / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you.”
2. Brilliant commentator and writer on all manner of issues both social and political, Christopher Hitchens, who died in 2011, put his finger on the selflessness that becoming a father instils in a man:
“Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it’s a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realise that your heart is running around inside someone else’s body.”
3. With brutal, unforgiving honesty, one of America’s most famous living writers Michael Chabon, a father of four, identifies the self-recognition and self-knowing that comes to all men once they become a father…
“Sooner or later, you will discover which kind of father you are, and at that moment you will, with perfect horror, recognize the type. You are the kind of father who fakes it, who yells, who measures his children with the greatest accuracy only against one another, who evades the uncomfortable and glosses over the painful and pads the historical records of his sorrows and accomplishments alike. You are the kind who teases and deceives and toys with his children and subjects them to displays of rich and manifold sarcasm when – as is always the case – sarcasm is the last thing they need. You are the kind of father who pretends knowledge he doesn’t possess, and imposes information with implacable gratuitousness, and teaches lessons at the moment when none can be absorbed, and is right, and has always been right, and always will be right until the end of time, and never more than immediately after he has been wrong. And when your daughter’s body begins to betray her, and her sky flickers in the distance with the heat lightning of sex, you clear your throat and stroke your chin whiskers and tell her to go ask her mother. You can’t help it – you’re a walking cliché.”
4. One of Hollywood’s baddest boys, actor Jack Nicholson, gives Esquire a ‘gut instinct’ response which emphasises the importance of fathers giving their kids space, the chance to fail, and the chance to thrive.
“What do I do well as a father? I’m there all the time. I give unconditional love. And I have a lot of skills in terms of getting them to express themselves. I’m good with handy hints – if they can tell me what their problem is – ’cos I’ve had a lot of problems in life myself. I make an effort to expose them to things. I want them to have a deep, inner feeling that it’s alright to be happy, that you don’t have to be constantly manufacturing problems that you don’t really have.”
5. In a serious moment, comedian and father-of-three Jerry Seinfeld confirms his belief in the ‘do what I do, not what I say’ theory of fatherhood:
“Always remember one of the greatest teachers of your children is the seepage of how you conduct yourself. Not the lessons you say out loud, but how you treat your spouse and your ethical relationship with the world is what drifts into their mind over time.”
6. In his book Pere Goriot, French novelist Honore de Balzac characterised one of the surprising things you realise once you have progeny – you’re not as important as you were before, and you’re happy about it:
“Some day you will know that a father is much happier in his children’s happiness than in his own. I cannot explain it to you: it is a feeling in your body that spreads gladness through you.”
7. In one of the best-selling novels of the 1980s, this passage from Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities powerfully explained one of a father’s main duties, and motivations:
“Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later… that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.”
8. American author Mitch Albom nails the generational divide, which eventually comes together once more both in our understanding of our parents, and our kids’ understanding of us:
“Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them. They move on. They move away. The moments that used to define them – a mother’s approval, a father’s nod – are covered by moments of their own accomplishments. It is not until much later, as the skin sags and the heart weakens, that children understand; their stories, and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the waters of their lives.”
9. Fellas, it’s he-who-can’t-be-killed, Keef Richards. Just listen:
“I’ve done a lot of dadding. Whoo, I tell you what – it grows you up pretty quick when that little bugger starts waking up. Suddenly, there’s this little cute ball of stuff yelling its head off – boom! Snap to! Oh, man, I better take care of this. Daughters are far easier to bring up. My first [child] was Marlon, my son, and he gave me a good fight, man. He would drag my ass sometimes, before I could talk to him and instill the wisdom of not doing that. I occasionally borrow pot from my kids. They do a little weed occasionally. ‘Here, Dad,’ or more likely, ‘Dad, have you got any?'”
10. Austin Powers himself, Mike Myers, on all you need to know about dad-hood:
“Anyone who tells you fatherhood is the greatest thing that can happen to you, they are understating it.”