To be a good father, is a high aspiration for any man.
“Luke…I am your father.”
Recognize the line? Nothing drives a successful movie like strong characters in conflict. Back in 1977, when Star War first flashed onto the silver screen the message seemed obvious, conflicts are external…and real heroes never give up.
Imagine my chagrin then, as a father with two small children and a geologist with several degrees and ten years experience, when our little family experienced layoff and divorce. The financial hardship that followed was an external foe. I had plenty of training to deal with that kind of adversity. It was the fear and anxiety – the kind that creeps in day by day as we went broke in slow motion – where my coping skills failed.
I was still young. Young enough to start another career, law school perhaps, or maybe computers.
Still, I didn’t know what to do with the inner conflict: the one waged between the unfulfilled dreams and goals of the inner man, and the stoic outer man that I showed to the world every day. What eventually followed was a bout of acute depression and divorce.
During one particularly long night, I found myself at a turning point, something like the man in the Robert Frost poem – two roads diverging the woods. The Greek word for such events is Kairos. It means a time of destiny. The definition is apt because on that otherwise uneventful night, I stood on the tipping point of a fulcrum in time and met my own future. The next morning I made two significant commitments: First, to stop being a tired and broke single-dad, and second, to become a nurturing, providing, and protecting father.
It was a long time ago. Ronald Reagan was president. Those two small children are now grown and living their own lives. Why even bother to bore you with the details of this story? One reason is because the economics of the present, with yet another collapse of the oil and gas industry, seem eerily familiar. I foresee many young parents being compelled by circumstance to play out the same dramas that we did. Second, it has taken me this long to find my voice and tell the story.
To address the financial situation I enrolled in an evening law school program, coupled with a series of low pay, no-benefits jobs. After a few years without much sleep, I graduated. I was even offered a job, as a lawyer this time. After all the years of just getting by, I had naive hopes that this would be the answer to all our problems. Life wouldn’t be that simple.
Trying to balance the practice of law with raising children as a single dad soon demonstrated that I still had lots of grieving to do, lingering issues from the divorce and that last chapter of life in the oil patch. That’s when the depression came, several years after the actual layoff. I needed help … and not the sex, drugs, and rock and roll that some associate with the late 1980s. I’m talking about individual therapy and men’s groups. With that support, I recommitted myself and eventually thrived along the journey of fatherhood, on a personal quest for healing and hope.
And you’re right. It’s not rocket science. Nor is it an easy path to follow, day after day, month after month, and year after year. It’s the time element that raises the bar and keeps it there. That’s why I believe the commitment piece is so essential. As long as the kids were young enough to be under my roof, I was able to stay on that nurturing, providing, and protecting path. It was a commitment to a higher purpose, my own personal guidance and accountability partner.
It has been a long road. It’s taken a long time for me to find my voice and tell this story. I hope that by sharing it, the story serves as a demonstration to other parents, that: It’s OK to struggle, and it’s OK to ask for help. And especially for other, younger men; that to be a good father is a high aspiration for any man.