It’s Father’s Day and interestingly enough I’ve had a lot of time this weekend to ponder the role of the father, what with all of the movies that I watched this weekend that celebrate the father.  First, it was “Field of Dreams” and the obligatory tears being shed when Ray asks his dad if he wants to have a catch.  And then it was “Taken 2,” the Liam Neeson flick in which he risks life and limb to save his daughter yet again from the bad guys of Europe.  As I sat watching those films, I couldn’t help but think about the important role a father plays in his children’s life.  On second thought, I couldn’t help but think about the important role that both father and mother play in their children’s lives. 

In my practice, I typically see the families when they are at their worst, when the siblings are at each other’s throats, when they are wasting money and precious time fighting about what in some instances are trivial matters.  And I wonder about the parents of these children.  Usually they are already passed away by the time I get involved, but nevertheless I wonder who these parents were and what type of household they ran and, in some instances, what they could possibly have done wrong to set the sequence of events in motion which led to the instant dispute amongst the children.

You would love to think that the mantra of “Mom loved you best” is specious but in many situations that is accurate; mom did love one child best and thus chose to leave more of her money to one child over another.  Yet after meeting some of these children, it isn’t hard to figure out that maybe mom had a reason for loving one more than the other.  It certainly raises the question of what came first, the chicken or the egg.  Or, to put it another way, what came first:  the disproportionate love or the child who rebelled.  Because I would hate to think that a parent would knowingly and deliberately choose to love one child more than another.  However, if one child was always acting up, didn’t want to behave, refused to follow instructions and flat out defied her parents, then I can see why a parent might “choose” the good one over the naughty one.  Parents are humans just like anybody else—they like who they like and they dislike who they dislike. 

But the difficult part about being a parent is that there is no guidebook, no instruction manual.  You need to take a test to drive a car but anyone can have kids.  Sure there are classes and books on how to raise kids, but those classes and books are not definitive on the topic.  It isn’t like parenting is a discipline like mathematics, for which there is always a solution founded in logic.  If every child is different, then how can a book or a class prepare a parent for situations that may never have happened before? 

One of the things overlooked about the movie “Field of Dreams” is that the main character, Ray, is trying to recapture a relationship with his father.  When he was 17 he said a nasty thing to his father and walked out, not to return again until his father’s funeral, which by that time it was too late to rectify the relationship.  It is confounding to me when I hear about parents who don’t talk to their children, who let their children walk out or who tell them to leave and not return.  I know it happens, I am not naïve; I know this isn’t just a Hollywood dramatization.  But perhaps I have been living in a dreamland that is not founded on reality.

Which makes my family that much more special; because I see the worst of families.  I hear the horror stories of fathers who were abusive and mean and terrifying or mothers who were outspoken about their love for one child over another or who were too self-involved to devote the necessary time to their children. 

When I was growing up I didn’t really pay much attention to Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.  We certainly celebrated the holidays, but I don’t remember feeling any differently towards my parents on those days than on any other days.  I hope they didn’t believe that special days of the year were necessary so that we might show them the requisite appreciation.  I would like to think that I showed them that appreciation on a daily basis because I understood how important they were and how much of an impact they had on my life, and that I didn’t need to give them a greeting card on a specified day of the year to show it. 

But now that I am a parent and I see how difficult a job that is and I see the sacrifices a parent makes on a daily basis and how life-changing becoming a parent can be and how sometimes being a parent means being a rule enforcer or putting a foot down, I have a newfound appreciation for my parents, something that I would not have ever been able to comprehend had I never had children.

And I realize how important the little things can be.  Sometimes it really is just taking one day of the year to recognize the mother and the father.  With life moving so quickly it is easy to lose sight of how important some people are and how we oftentimes take them for granted.  I constantly need to remind myself not to take my parents for granted because I see how the familial bond can irreparably be broken and how it is sometimes a result of the parents’ failings.  It just makes me want to work harder at not only showing my appreciation for my parents but also at demonstrating to my children how unconditionally I love them and how they can depend upon me and how I will never ever ever leave them to fend for themselves.

Just like in “Taken,” the parent needs to be willing to sacrifice everything for his/her child.  If the parent doesn’t instill that love and devotion to his or her children, then how do we expect our children to instill it in their children? 

To put a cap on the weekend, as we were driving to dinner at my parents’ house for Father’s Day, a Marvin Gaye song came on the radio and I was immediately struck by the irony of it—on Father’s Day, listening to a song by a man who was killed by his own father…

You know what, Dad, I’m ready to have a catch any day of the week…

I hope you all had a great Father’s Day and a great Mother’s Day last month—and that you take a moment to reflect on all of the sacrifices your parents had to make and the countless hours they spent raising you to be the person you are today.  Sometimes a card on a select Sunday of the year just isn’t enough, right?

Have a great week.