This is the Father Lessons project, where I ask people to share their wisdom, life lessons and insights about fatherhood, allowing you to assemble the toolkit that your father should have shared with you.
My name is Mark McBennett, and I’m a father. Not a sociologist, psychiatrist or therapist, just a regular father. I’ve had people tell me what a great father I am, so I know I’m doing some things right. But there have been plenty of times when I’ve felt like a failure as a father. That’s partly down to the fact that I’m quite hard on myself especially when I’ve fallen short of my own ideals of what a father should do and be, when I’ve been lazy, selfish, avoidant, controlling, you name it. But while I think it’s good to be honest with yourself and face up to your shortcomings, the fact is that I, like many others, didn’t have an ideal role model growing up.
This isn’t about blaming our own fathers for everything and avoiding responsibility. It’s about recognising the attitudes and patterns of behaviour, good as well as bad, that we carry with us due to the way we ourselves were raised. If we don’t recognise them first of all, then we’re probably just mimicking them and passing them down to our children. With a literal generation gap between our childhood and our time as parents, we also need to take into consideration how society and the “rules” have changed.
I was aware enough to recognise this and I’ve read various books about how to raise kids, about personal development and psychology. But the fact is, this sort of DIY approach isn’t easy. Then I wondered if it would be more effective or, at the very least, interesting to try a more collaborative approach.
How about if I talked to other people, men and women, about fatherhood? People who grew up with good fathers, sure, we can learn a lot from them. But more importantly, people who grew up with crappy fathers, absent fathers, overwhelmed fathers, people who lost their father too soon, or never knew a father at all.
What was it like? What lasting effects did it have? How have they come to terms with the fatherhood that they experienced? How have they changed or improved on it in their own parenting?
So, by committing to the Father Lessons project, centered around a blog and podcast, I have started out on a learning journey. And no matter how well (or how badly) it goes, how compelling and informative each episode is (or isn’t), approaching it with an open mind and a readiness to learn will hopefully mean that it’s a productive journey.
If you’d like to think about fatherhood from new and interesting perspectives, pick up some tips and tools along the way, maybe even see your own father in a new light, why not join me on this learning journey, as we seek to learn Father Lessons.