January 22, 2020

The Seeds of Fatherhood: Purpose in Paternal Relationships

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? They say an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, so do the fruits of labour give meaning to existence?

Parents invest time, money and other intangibles into providing the best life possible for their child. Their commitment exposes them to high-risk situations, teenage volatility and a reward that can be far from certain. Parenthood is said to provide purpose, but when the apple falls does it plant the next seed or rot to the core? Does it matter?

In less cerebral terms, I imagine this is the philosophical dilemma of being a parent. Except I know it’s not for my own. My mum, in simple terms, is happy for me no matter what. She sees most things in life as a cause for celebration. I aspire to have her confidence, optimism and vitality. From a young age however, I had an inherent need to be measured against something greater for a sense of purpose. The simple things didn’t inspire the same feelings in me as I could see it did in my mum. My dad became the measure of greatness, but more importantly a shot of reality to go with my mum’s ‘glass half-full’.

I remember in Year 6 I had to fill out a questionnaire for the yearbook. One of the questions asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I initially put “professional basketball player.”

I remember in Year 6 I had to fill out a questionnaire for the yearbook. One of the questions asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I initially put “professional basketball player.” At the time I was a short kid who played competitively for barely 12 months and didn’t know what a lay-up was. My dad told me to put something realistic, for some of these reasons and more. This upset me at the time, but my dad let me leave my answer. Despite little chance of becoming professional, my dad took me to the local basketball courts every day the following Summer to do drills and improve my game. In hindsight I cringe at the thought of my yearbook saying I wanted to become a professional basketball player. My dad supporting me for hours each day to become the best player I could is nonetheless one of my favourite things he has ever done for me.

My dad and I are very similar in attitude and personality, but often the complete opposite in taste. My dad’s passions are cars and motorbikes, while I was interested in things like Japanese cartoons and rap music. When I’d ask for Pokemon or Yugi-Oh toys, he would often tell me I was too old for them. He would nonetheless encourage me to save money so I could buy them for myself. When I was around 7, it took me so long to save enough money for a Pokemon “pinball shooter” that I didn’t want it anymore! Wanting things my dad didn’t like is how I learned to save money.

In each example my dad disagreed with what I wanted. He still did everything he could to help me constructively work towards my goals. While growing up my dad used to frequently ask, “are you a leader or a follower?” My answer was always to be a leader. One of the very things he instilled in me is arguably what sometimes drove us into conflict.

Many think of a father-son relationship as a constant pursuit of approval or acceptance. I see it differently as a pursuit of rewarding my dad (and mum) for all the money and time invested in getting me to where I am today. So the philosophical dilemma is ultimately my own. All that matters in the end is that when the tree does fall, there’s another one standing right next to it.

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