Monday, June 17, 2013

Father's Day Musings About A Bad Dad

Not every dad can be a good dad. But even the bad ones 
can shape our lives in positive ways, and I'm thankful for that. -me

Today, as my Facebook feed jammed up with the many heartfelt messages and sentimental photos my friends posted in celebration of Father's Day, I contemplated once again the confusing role my father has played in my life. 

By any objective measure, Melvin was a bad dad.

For the first decade of my life, he tried to live the life of a family man, but failed dismally. He would disappear for days, even weeks, at a time, and return home offering no explanation. He cheated flagrantly, not even bothering to deny his series of affairs. His behavior provoked violent fights with my mother, at all times of day and night. He drifted away from his children until I lost any sense of connection to him.

When I was eleven, my parents divorced and my father moved to a different state. I was glad to see him go.

During the second decade of my childhood, he visited me a total of maybe three times. These reunions failed, mostly because of his attempts to "parent" me, which struck me as hypocritical and hollow. His checks for child support were few and far between; he took no interest in or responsibility for my life.  

And just to be clear, Mel was not a dumb guy. He was a gifted academic, working as a mathematical researcher, first at University of Michigan and later, MIT. He had plenty of money, and a fairly healthy role model in his own father. There are no excuses or contributing factors for his failure as a parent.

So what can I possibly find to celebrate on Father's Day? Surprisingly, quite a bit. Here are the top ten reasons I'm grateful for my bad dad:
10. I've been biologically blessed with a healthy body and a sound mind, and he gets 50% of the credit for that. 
9. As an infant, I suffered from colic and cried miserably. I'm told that he spent a lot of time rubbing my back, which stopped my crying and calmed me down. 
8. During the first few years of my life, when I was busy forming attachments and learning how to trust other human beings, he must have done a decent job of loving me because I'm a relatively emotionally stable adult. 
7. His dishonest behavior and lack of integrity taught me a lot about the value of trust, and drove me to be a more honest person. Even at the age of 5 or 6, I was afraid that if I told even a tiny lie, I would end up just like him.
6. As a teenager, I was driven by a desire to succeed in life, to show him that I could make something of myself without his help. That stubborn urge to show him up kept my young life on course, and probably steered me away from of a lot of trouble. 
5. Because his conduct so clearly lacked any belief in moral absolutes, I learned to define and live by my own moral code at a relatively young age. As a teenager, I knew who I was and what I stood for.  
4. His lack of compassion for his own children helped me become a more caring, empathetic person, with a special place in my heart for children who might feel overlooked. 
3. His ineffective parenting taught me volumes about the kind of parent that I wanted to become. Rule Number One: no fighting in front of the children. 
2. To this day, he will not admit that he ever did anything wrong. His arrogance - or inability to clearly assess his own behavior - taught me to be humble, and to apologize when I mess up. Especially to my kids. 
1. By failing to love me as a father should love his daughter, my bad dad taught me that of all the things in life, love matters most.

* * * * *

Stories about my less-than-perfect dad:


  1. He had four children with your mom. They must have loved each other at the beginning. Wonder what happened? Just got tired of the whole 'family' thing?

    1. I think his arrogance is his fatal flaw. And his utter and complete lack of emotional intelligence.

      Other than that, I'm sure he's a great guy. ;)

  2. Diane, I always wondered about your father, but I never inquired about him for some reason. My childhood was similar to yours. My father was an academic, with a history of disappearing when he found a new girlfriend. The violent fights were epic, with me sitting in the hallway watching the entertainment for the evening. My mother was from an evangelic Christian background and never worked outside the home, so divorce was never an option. They settled into a truce when I was teenager, but I never formed a bond with my father. One reason I got married on my parent's deck was so I wouldn't have to reveal that I wouldn't have let him walk me down the aisle. To this day there has never been an acknowledgement, or apology for his behavior.

    But I wholeheartedly agree with you that a fractured parental bond can drive you to be a better person. I am aware, every day of my life, that it is important to be honest, to be loving, to trust, and to work on making relationships better.

    Thanks for sharing your story, and I want you to know that I have always admired your blessed life, and now I know it came from hard work on your part. You did a great job.

    1. Thanks for sharing. Sigh. It's so sad that many a childhood has been destroyed by selfish, cold-hearted men, and I'm sorry you suffered that fate. But that's exactly why I decided to tell my story..not every father is a good father, and on this Father's Day, I felt like that truth needed to be said.

    2. I just reread the post and my reply. Things change but stay the same sometimes. With my mother's death and a need to develop a relationship without my mother's moderating influence, I have entered a truce with him. Even though I still annoy the crap out of him; he hates my know-it-all attitude, but he will admit in a sideways thanks that my attitude saved his life when he developed sepsis. I also am the one that told a narcissist that even though he thought he was going to live forever, he wasn't going to, and he needed to move to a Lifecare community while he was still healthy. I wasn't going to stick Tony with taking care of his house, medical, and personal needs as he aged. He always complains about the move, but I ignore him. Sigh.


Please comment...I'd love to hear from you!