In the course of my life I have met fathers of every ilk, starting with mine, a brilliant man, scientist-cum-artist, who, lacking the ability to engage with non-adults, left the childcare to my mother while retaining veto power. My father and I had our share of conflicts, stemming in part from his desire to mold me into his own image and my resistance to it. But his shortcomings as a father didn’t prevent me from loving and admiring him. The turning point in our relationship occurred when I finally realized he could never be the father I wished him to be, which left me with two options: accepting him the way he was, with his strengths and limitations, or avoiding contact with him. I chose the former, and by the time he died we had resumed a warm, if not profound, relationship.
Rumor has it that women instinctively know how to be mothers whereas men need role models in order to be good fathers. That is a lot of hooey.
Fast forward to the father of my children, my current husband. This is a man who did not have the benefit of role models (his mother died shortly after giving birth to him and his father remarried, leaving his son to be raised by relatives), and yet when I met him, a widower with two infants to take care of, he knew how to be both father and mother to them. The sight of this grown man feeding his babies, bathing them, changing their diapers, reading them bedtime stories as if it were second nature to him moved me and made me fall in love not only with the father, but with his precious sons as well. We got married a year later and I immediately started the process of adopting the boys.
So, on the day set aside to celebrate fatherhood, let us remember the nifty little cliché: Where there is a will, there is a way. Fathers who want to be good at parenting don’t need to rely on role models to achieve success in that domain. If they can find, within themselves, the resources to be good fathers, they will be. The key is not to seek perfection–which, in any case, is unattainable–but to remain unwavering in their commitment to fatherhood.