Becoming a father makes you reflective. In fact, I’m so reflective my wife won’t let me go out in the sun. (Bad joke–so bad you may have to re-read that line to get it.)
Seriously though, it’s a lot of pressure, trying to be a good dad. In Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk writes “If you’re male and you’re Christian and living in America, your father is your model for God. And if you never know your father, if your father bails out or dies or is never at home, what do you believe about God?” That, my friends, is pressure.
Back around Father’s Day, I posted about the best fictional fathers. Most of us would admit that at least some of our ideas about good/bad dads have come from books and movies. I’ve been compiling a list of good fictional dads, bad fictional dads, and real dads (who are usually both good AND bad). I’m refining that list daily, and using it to guide my own decisions as a father. I’m not going to give the whole list here, but I’ll give you a few examples. My hope is that people can point out where I’m off the mark and also suggest other dads (real or fictional, good or bad) that I can use as role models.
For my good fictional dad, Bryan Mills is my current top-of-the-list. This is probably because Taken 2 is coming out soon, and because I wish I could kick ass like Liam Neeson did in the first movie. Now I know Mills wasn’t the perfect dad–he was a workaholic and just a tiny bit overprotective. But we knew he was a great dad at heart, because his overprotectiveness was a) motivated by love for his daughter and b) totally justified when she was taken. Plus he got his daughter an awesome audition with a famous singer (and saved her life and exacted bloody retribution on all who dared harm her). If I can ever destroy a human trafficking ring and/or help Wolfe become a world famous singer, I am prepared to do it. That’s why I take Krav Maga, Brazilian jiu jitsu, and voice lessons.
In terms of bad characters, Darth Vader is the ultimate absentee father. I mean, come on. He chopped off his son’s hand and kidnapped and tortured his daughter. That’s not really much of a gray area in terms of quality parenting. While sometimes I would love to be able to Force-choke people, for the most part when I face a tough parenting situation I ask myself, “What would Darth Vader do?” Then I do the opposite.
For real-life dads, obviously I start with my own. He passed away in 2009, so I missed getting to share parenting tips with him. My dad wasn’t perfect. Like many men of his generation he worked…a lot. He also had a huge heart and would help anybody who needed it–sometimes, I felt, at the expense of his own family. But I never doubted that he loved me. I still remember him telling me, not long after I started (mal)functioning as an adult, that he was proud of me. Those words meant more than a million dollars to me. Ok, a million’s a lot, so let’s say more than a hundred grand–but the point remains. If I can be the kind of dad to my son that will make a few simple words so precious to him, I’ll know I did something right.
Another great real-life dad is John Lee. He believes in his son Mike so much that he became his manager–and landed him a Subway commercial, even though Mike has barely started his career as a pro boxer. I hope Wolfe will trust me enough to let me guide his career–unless he decides to be a horse proctologist. Then he’s on his own.
Last on my list is Stephen King. I know he had his issues with substance abuse and probably wasn’t always a great dad. But in the last couple of issues of Esquire magazine there’s a novella called In the Tall Grass that King and his son Joe co-wrote. Even better than the story are Joe’s and Stephen’s notes on collaborating. It seems they genuinely like each other, and that Joe had a very fun and supportive dad when he was growing up. So, my goal is to achieve 10% of King’s success, especially in the publishing world. Barring that, maybe one day Wolfe and I can write a story together. That would be pretty sweet too.
So, how about it? Who else should I add to my list of role models?