A-Men Monday: The Patient Father

Monday, November 29, 2010

It’s  A-Men Monday, y’all. And it’s the last installment in our dads series. Hope you enjoyed all the guest posts.

Today’s Fab Father spotlight is on Robert Edison Sandiford, an author, editor, teacher, and father living in Barbados. He talks about something in which every parent becomes well-versed (and often tested): patience.

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The Patient Father
by Robert Edison Sandiford

My mother was the one with the quick temper.  Predictably, she’s mellowed since having grandchildren.  But I’m sure we—my two older brothers and younger sister—did stuff that annoyed dad, too.

Anger management seems a full-time job as a father.  My dad made it look easy.  I thought it would be.  Considered, like him, a fairly cool guy, I confess patience is hard to muster when you’re unexpectedly tackled below-the-belt by your four-year-old daughter—or you find yourself arguing with her afterward as if she’s the coach and you’re the rookie.

From early, I realized my daughter could fret me in ways that left her mother indifferent. “She spends most of her time with you,” my wife shrugs.  True, I work from home.

“I’m-not-your-friend!” stomps my girl when told M&M’s won’t be served for breakfast.

“That’s OK,” I say, feeling the pull of the Dark Side.  “I’m your father.”

Aeryn and the Rookie

Parenthood, the toughest job you may never love, comes with pressures that can make a man’s boiling point that much lower.  Negotiating unknown situations.  Trying to be as good as your dad was or better.  Synching your day-to-day activities with those of your child’s.  I don’t walk with a cellphone, nor do I dabble in Facebook or tweet, and still my time feels hobbled by contemporary conveniences.

Chris Rock once deadpanned that there are certain things you should do instinctually as a father, like tell your story (it’s the only one you’ve got), hold down a job and stay outta jail.  You should do these without any expectation of praise, said the comic.

Then there’s The Advice. The best I was given when I became a father was “Enjoy your child.”  Of course, the best advice I was not given was “Learn to have more patience, especially if you think you have plenty.”

“As far as fatherhood goes, I am not a very good one,” wrote a friend to me recently in an email.  He’s a high school teacher with two sons, aged 3 and 1 ½ ; the eldest, naturally, is a tackler.  “Too much temper and not enough patience.  I do things I know I shouldn’t but find myself unable to prevent as my buttons are being shoved through my body and into the stratosphere by both boys …  Sigh.”

I didn’t reply to my friend right away.  It’s all new to my daughter, too—hopping on one leg on the bed, chasing monkeys out of the golden apple tree and taking down papa for fun—she’s always testing the limits of her freedoms on me.

And I’m one of those lucky fellows who doesn’t just love his kid, I actually like her: her independent spirit and determination, and that riotous sense of humour, so unlike either her mother’s or mine.  I really want her to do all the things I can and cannot do that are worth doing.

So I’m learning to be more patient for both of us.  Of all the qualities of character we fathers should have, of all the virtues we seek to secure, patience could be the greatest of these.  All others seem to flow from it: self-discipline, perspective, creativity, the ability to listen, to be gentle, and to be decisive.  The ability to know our children better and do a better job by them tomorrow.

It may also be the one virtue that permits us to raise sane individuals while keeping a sense of balance in our roaring world, where we too often plug into relationships the way we plug in our appliances.

I don’t have to be as loud as the din.  I can be quietly insistent.  I can give the stare, the glare, yes, even The Look.

And—it’s possible; my dad was a master at it—be understood all the same.

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Robert Edison Sandiford is the author of six books, including The Tree of Youth and Other Stories and the recently released graphic novel Great Moves.  He is also the co-editor of Shouts from the Outfield: The ArtsEtc Cricket Anthology. He and his wife were married ten years before deciding it was finally time to stop practicing and have that child.

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