Thursday, June 17, 2010

Reflections on Being a Father

As Father's Day approaches, I'm off to San Francisco to give Grand Rounds at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital then to Los Angeles to spend Father's Day with my father.

My daughter is now 17, so I've had nearly 18 years of responsibilities as a father, along with 25 years of being a husband, and 30 years as a companion to my wife.

We live in an era when 50% of all marriages end in divorce and even apparently stable couples like Al and Tipper Gore give up after 40 years together.

What are my lessons learned from being a husband and father?

1. I am a different person at 48 than I was at 18. The good news is that my wife likes both of those people. I'm a very different person now than when my daughter was born. We've grown together.

2. I've lived with my daughter though all the stages of her development - from a dependent infant, an inquisitive toddler, an adoring young child, and a spirited teen to a young woman on her way to becoming independent at college in 2011. At each stage she has interacted with me differently. I love her journey to independence as much as I treasured our time together when I was her best friend. Every day I need to recognize and respect her evolution.

3. Communities like Wellesley, Massachusetts are filled with goal-directed professionals who want to ensure the success of their children. This leads to a fair amount of academic pressure and "helicopter parenting". Although it may seem more expedient to do things for my daughter, it also slows her path of building self confidence and internal drive. I see my role as helping with her trajectory and providing a safety net, but giving her as much latitude as possible. When my daughter seeks my help, I'm always there as an advisor, counselor, or academic consultant.

4. My values and experiences are different than my daughter's. It's hard to interpret her day to day challenges through the lens of my life. The high school and college application process was very different in the 1970's than in the 2010's. I need to accept that my perspective may not be aligned with today's realities. I grew up with land line telephones and IBM Selectric typewriters. She was born in 1993 and thus has was not lived a day without the internet.

5. Life is filled with stresses at work, at home, and with the world in general. It's really important to realize that a year from now, no one will remember today's issues, but family is forever. Being consistent and predictable as a father, immune to whatever external stresses might change my mood, works really well. Raising my voice, being critical, or getting frustrated diminishes me.

Have a great Father's Day and remember that The Gift of Time is best present you can give.


Michelle W said...

Thanks for the inspirational post, and best wishes to your daught as she heads off to college.

Deanna Benson said...

Very well written and touching. It's nice to take a moment to step away from the everyday stresses to realize what's really important. Thank you.

Adil Siddiqui said...

Your perspectives and observatons are always encouraging and simple, and a nice reminder to others of life's priorities.

Ankur Seth said...

This has some really sweet lessons John..thanks for reminding about the gift of time,will remember it

Anonymous said...


There have a been a few short articles in the Times recently addressing - directly and obliquely - the 50% divorce rate. It seems to be a bit of a canard that's solidified into truth - with a little digging.