Ask Your Father

There Are Things In Life To Worry About. That Isn’t One Of Them.

“ ... sometimes it takes a lot of strength to walk away from something you don’t feel good about."

I was on the top of a waterfall with my eleven-year-old son, Tristan, waiting for him to jump into the pool below, when he looked like he was about to cry. This waterfall is about 20 minutes from our house, one of the perks of living in rural Oregon. 

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It's comparable to the high dive at our community pool. He'd probably seen me jump off this thing a million times over the years (I knew it was safe) and each time he looked at me like I'd accomplished something really amazing. This was the first time he'd ever asked to give it a try, however. He must have made a dozen half jumps, but then backed away, slowly, each time his head hung low like he'd failed at some might thing that would ultimately change him into someone stronger and more accomplished, same as achieving a college diploma. 

I crouched down next to him at the top of the falls. He was in blue swimming shorts and a blue swimming shirt, bot with sharks on them. His brow hair was wet, along with his blue eyes. I thought about how my father would've called me the P-word. He'd have laughed at me like I wasn't man enough to jump. He'd have told me to toughen up and go for it, all of it in an attempt to pressure me into something I wasn't sure about. Something that wouldn't matter in 10 years anyway. And the funny thing about my father is, he left my mother when I was 9. He died divorcing his fourth wife. For a man that was so willing to tell me I needed to "man-up" he had a real habit of walking out when things got tough.

I think about that a lot, actually. I think about what it really means to be a man, and how to develop my son into one. Like a lot of men who were raised without fathers, I don't feel all that masculine. I don't work much with my hands. I'm not that into watching sports or working on cars or proving how tough I am. I'm much more interested in providing for my family. I'm interested in caring for my wife and my children. I'm interested in giving my son a better childhood than the one I had.

I looked at Tristan, standing on top of that waterfall, and I honestly considered for a moment about handling this situation like my father would have.

But I didn't feel right about it.

Tristan gave me this look that seemed to say, “I’m doing this because I want to impress you.”

Courtesy of Clint Edwards

To be honest, part of me wanted him to do it because I knew he'd get a thrill out of it. But the last thing I wanted him to do was to jump off a waterfall because he thought I'd love him more, or respect him more, or think he was cool. Our relationship wasn't dependent on waterfall jumping.

 There are qualities I'm going to help my son develop: wisdom, faith, kindness, hygiene (is hygiene a quality? It doesn't matter, it's important and I'm having a difficult time teaching it to him). But I'm not going to force him to do something that in the grand course of life doesn't matter.

There seems to be an understanding that raising a little boy really centers on toughing up, and developing a thick skin. But is that really all it's cracked up to be? Maybe I want my son to be a little more sensitive. I've cried twice in the past 25 years. Something about that doesn't sit right with me, and I wonder if it has to do with all those years of my father, and other fathers after he left, calling me the P-word, and making me do things I wasn't all that comfortable with, like jumping off a waterfall. Then I thought about the drugs I did in high school, some of the bad decisions I made, how most of them started with someone telling me to man up.

 So I tried something different.

I told Tristan that I was probably 13 or 14 before I attempted anything like jumping off a waterfall. "You are already stronger than I ever was at your age by just getting up here." 

"Really?" He asked.

I nodded. 

He took one more half start, I thought he was going to go for it, and then he turned around and started making his way back to the trail leading to the van. I followed him.

"You can jump off that waterfall when you're ready. And if you never do, I doubt they will ask you about it on your college application."

"What does that mean?" he asked.

"It means there are things in life to worry about," I said. Then I pointed behind us, "That isn't one of them."

I stopped walking for a moment.

“In fact, sometimes it takes a lot of strength to walk away from something you don’t feel good about. Especially when you think it will impress someone.”

We were almost to the parking lot and I rubbed his head affectionately. He turned and wrapped his arms around my waist, clearly relieved.

Clint Edwards is the author of  I'm Sorry. Love, Your Husband, and the funny and insightful No Idea What I'm Doing: A Daddy Blog. He is a staff writer for the very popular (and awesome) Scary Mommy. His work has been discussed on Good Morning America, The View, The Talk, and The Today Show. Everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Sharon Osbourne to Kathie Lee Gifford has agreed with his take on parenting and marriage. He's also a parenting contributor to the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Disney's Babble, and elsewhere. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter

This article is inspired by Chicken Soup for the Soul's Being Dad, a television series about nine dads navigating the joys and challenges of fatherhood. Check it out now on Netflix.

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