How My Father Made Me a Better Mom
I see daily how I am similar to my mother; I've inherited her creativity, her flair for the dramatic, her love of tea and pastries, and her ability to whip up a costume or a meal out of pieces and scraps to name a few.
But it takes two people to make a child, and it took two parents to make me the mother I am. Now that it's out on "the Web," as my dad calls it, I can share that my dad has been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. The doctor says he could go into remission or die next week, such is the nature of this type of cancer. I'm in shock. I've never had the delusion that my daddy is made of steel since he deals with too much chronic pain for me to believe that, but he never lets pain stop him from being there for strangers and loved ones alike. But can he kick cancer like he has psoriasis, heart conditions, and erlichiosis? The idea that I could have to exist in a world that he is not part of makes me want to scream! But instead of screaming, I'm going to write about all the ways my dad made me a good mom and a good human.
My dad was never afraid to show me and my brothers affection. He never bought into the idea that in order to be macho he had to be hands-off. He gives the best bear hugs I've ever had, even though his joints are stiff and swollen from arthritis. He showers the same affection on my daughters, my nephew, and his adopted grandkids to whom he is "Pops." I try to show my girls the same level of care, whether that is holding my eight-month-old through new teeth and stuffy noses or cuddling my seven-year-old through friend break-ups, because my dad taught me how powerful a parent's physical presence can be.
Sense of humor
My dad has a child-like sense of playfulness that many men of 70+ years have lost. He laughs at fart jokes, teases his younger sister mercilessly, and speaks his own language called Bushka. It's easy to lose the playfulness in the midst of the sleepless nights and endless days of parenting, but I aspire to stay young at heart for my daughters even when that looks like serving popcorn for dinner or turning a cartwheel in the front yard.
My dad has served as a minister and a chaplain, but, unlike many men of the cloth, he never judged me for making choices different from his regarding religion. Even when he might have disagreed with a choice my brothers or I made, he let us know that he loved us no matter what, and he listened calmly to our complaining when we inevitably realized the error of our ways. I want to be that kind of parent, not one who says, "I told you so," (even if I did...tell them so... like 300 times).
Dad never pretended to be an angel. At nine, he stole his dad's cigarettes. As a teen, he drove too fast on North Carolina back roads. He once left a burning bag of poop on the mean neighbor lady's front stoop (I thought that only happened in movies). In college, he turned in a paper that his professor called, "BS" and didn't become a very serious scholar until graduate school. The thing is that Dad told us these stories about himself to let us know that he, like us, was once young and stupid. He also wanted us to know that he was able to turn those early acts of stupidity into lessons, as he hoped we one day would. I try to be real with my daughters, no matter what. I let them see me cry, I tell them when I make a mistake or get my feelings hurt, and I let them know that I am a human being, and being human is all we can be.
Being one of the most patient human beings I know, when my dad raises his voice, you know he has reached his limit. My grandmother used to blame it on
his time in the military, a remnant of barking orders, but I think that sometimes patience reaches its natural conclusion and turns into assertiveness. I think I'm like my dad in that my daughters know that when I turn up the volume, it's time to listen up.
Parenting is a lifelong job, and my dad made it clear that we weren't just his children but people he really liked and took an interest in. My middle school students used to laugh when I emphatically proclaimed my belief that children are people, but I learned it from my dad.
The phrase, "Don't judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes," sounds like a cliche, but my dad has always taken it to heart. Whether by counseling young soldiers as a Navy chaplain, helping a single mom find an apartment, or singing a hospice patient to sleep, my dad shows over and over that he believes in everyone's right to be treated with dignity and empathy regardless of age or station in life. I try to live this commitment by being a force for compassion in my home and all the spaces I occupy in the world.
My dad has been a shining beacon of love throughout my life, and I credit him with helping me choose a life partner who would be the same kind of father to my children. He taught me through his gentle example that I was worthy of love, respect, and adoration.
When my first daughter was born via emergency C-section in 2009, my dad was in Colorado at a conference. He drove straight to the hospital as soon as his plane landed. He wasn't rushing to hold his new grandbaby, though I am sure he was practically itching to do so. The reason he rushed was to give me a hug and tell me what I needed to hear. He knew I was bewildered and heartbroken about the way my daughter came into the world, and he quietly whispered in my ear to remind me that even though I didn't have the birth I had planned, I had delivered my baby girl safely Earth side. Such is the way of my father, and such is the way of his daughter.
Kendra Atkins-Boyce is a mother, doula, and writer living in Oregon. She believes wholeheartedly in the beauty of birth, and in the comfort of family. She is always ready to support those who need her in any way she can, and you can find out more about her services here.