Thursday, June 18, 2009

Totally Not the Scary Dad

In High School, my dad was sort of Surrogate Dad to all kinds of my friends. He was the dad people wanted to hang out with. In fact, sometimes, I'd come home and find out that a friend had come over to visit, and when I wasn't there, the friends would hang with my parents instead.

Gross, right?

Well, kind of - but mostly I loved it. Guys in particular loved my dad. My best friend's dad was not so much in the picture, so he'd come to my dad for advice and stuff*. My dad knew all my friends, even the really casual ones who never actually came to our house. He knew their names, and their major personality issues, and who they liked, and what they looked like, and what sports they played, and how they did in school.

He know because he asked.** And I'd always tell him. Except some things he didn't ask, and I assumed he knew, like who was a "good kid" and who wasn't. I have since discovered that we may not always have been on the same page, there. Because even a dad who asks, and remembers, can be fooled by a polite handshake and direct eye contact.

Once, at the kitchen table much too late at night, my step-sister*** and I were writing King Lear essays**** with a friend (M.S.) for Ms. Morris' English class. Maybe it was the King Lear family dynamic, but we started talking about our dads. M.S. said something about being afraid of her dad. I must have looked surprised (because I was).

She asked me, "Come on, haven't you ever been afraid of your dad?"

I had to think about that. They both stared at me.

Step-sister said that she lived in regular (not constant, it's different) fear of her dad, but not of mine, and there followed a strange conversation about how my dad was just different than "normal" dads. Because he wasn't scary. And dads, you know, should be a little scary.

It's not that my dad and I always saw things the same way, it's just that I lived in fear of his lectures, as opposed to his raised voice, his belt, or his fists.***** He was different from other dads, and here's how. He respected his kids (and other kids, and maybe all kids). He saw us as people, and treated us as such. Other dads demanded complete compliance, and got rebellious kids. My dad told us the rules, gave us expectations, and we pretty much obeyed.******

In all these years since that night, I have watched other dads interact with their kids. I have seen all kinds, but I have to say, my dad is not the only dad who isn't scary. Plenty of dads are, that's true. But there are lots of "good dads" who act for reasons of protection, not constraint. Lots of dads who look for kind things to say instead of insults. Lots of dads who find excuses to hang out with their kids instead of sending them away.

The dads whose kids can say "I know my dad loves me" - and not because he bought them cars or ponies, or let them do whatever / go wherever they wanted, or sent them to cool camps, or gave them unlimited credit cards - the dads who show their kids, and (*gasp*) tell their kids they love them. Those are the dads that are shaping the future. Their kids will turn out to be the confident ones, the leaders, the gentle ones, the effective ones.

Go, kind dads. Sweet is better than scary. Concerned beats insulting. Love wins over fear.

*By "stuff" I mean priesthood blessings and dating counsel. You know, Man stuff.

**And he remembered because he had a freakishly sharp memory (and mostly still does) for things related to people. Husband has the same sort of memory, but for things related to cars.

***Yes, I usually refer to her just as my sister, but this time, our different parents come into the story, so stay with me.

**** I wrote the outline, and we all used it, just shaken into a new order for each of us. I had the privilege (I spelled it right!) of writing the outline, because I had actually read the play.

***** In fact, once he gave me a print of a Gary Larsen Far Side cartoon with my name put in to read, "Eventually, Becca came to fear her father's lectures above all other forms of punishment" - it's funny, because its' true...

****** I was grounded once. For going to a party I was told not to attend. It was not quite fun enough to make up for being grounded. For a month. Yeah, my parents didn't know how to do it. Obviously.


  1. My dad had this weird mental block where he could never remember my friend's names correctly, no matter how many years they'd been coming around. He would say it right for a year or two and then it would deteriorate. Sherry became Sharon and Anna was Annie. Still, my parents opened up their house to anyone who needed a place to be besides their own home for a while, so everyone kept coming around. And he always got MY name right.

  2. My father is one such man. He is quiet, gentle, sincere, loving, and steadfast. I fear his disappointment more than any other thing. A lecture, a fight, a raised voice...these are almost welcome in comparison to that sad eye and half-shake of the head. I have tried my whole life to earn his respect and for as long as I live, I shall endeavor to be half so good a person as he naturally is.
    Thank you for sharing this. I'm sure your father is honored by such glowing love and pride.

  3. Not only was I lucky enough to have such a father, I married a man who is one as well. It's almost too much good luck for one person, I sometimes think.

  4. Love your dad. And Mimi. Your house was a wonderful place to be.

    We read King Lear in Mrs. Morris' class? Really?


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