January 1, 2002

Model Behavior

Filed under: Fatherhood — schroder @ 3:00 pm

In grade school, our teachers made us write Valentine cards to every student in our class. I found this exercise frustrating and never quite understood the value until I opened my stack of cards. As contrived as it seemed, it provided one moment each year for everyone in my little world to think a nice thought about each other.

Holidays can be a double-edged sword – for many, they are a time to be with family, friends and loved ones; for others, the picture-postcard images that bombard them only serve to heighten their loneliness.

There are so many ways to counter this – and they take no more effort than we expended in grade school. My friend Ann Morris’ church has a group that gathers each February and sends a Valentine to every member who is over age 50. Much like the Martin Luther King holiday is evolving to promote community service, it could be time for Valentine’s Day to evolve as well.

Last summer, I took a larger role in my daughter’s life. We moved into an apartment together in Charlotte while she attended her senior year in high school and I commuted a few days a week back to Atlanta. We had some adjustment problems – after all, it had been eight years since we lived in the same house for more than a week or two. In the end, it was a wonderful experience.

Some of my friends thought, given the circumstances, I was going too far in my fatherly duties – that she had to learn that certain behavior results in certain consequences. I was torn. I didn’t want to stand between her and a life lesson. But I also knew that on my deathbed I wouldn’t look back and wish I had spent more time in the office last year. Was I making this sacrifice to make me feel better or was it truly the right thing to do?

I was burdened by two theories I once read about fathers. One says the way a father treats his children is instrumental in their adult perception of who and what God is like. The other says that a father should take his daughter out “on dates” – open the door to the car for her, hold her chair at dinner and have nice conversation across a table – to model how she should be treated later by a real date.

My daughter is now 18. I occasionally watch her pursue guys that her mother and I don’t feel are, let’s say, appropriate. Despite our desire to control the situation, we know she is getting old enough to make her own choices. I keep hoping that somewhere, in the back of her head, she remembers our evenings together and is only going through a phase.

Our time together as roommates has ended. But I know my role as her father hasn’t. When Valentines Day comes, I will send her a card and perhaps a gift. And if we aren’t able to have dinner together that night, I will try to remember that Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be what the commercials are telling me. It is not just a day for people who are in love, but yet another reminder of how to act for those who love.

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