Q: My own father is an alcoholic and we’ve always had a pretty rocky relationship–especially when I was growing up—and I think he’s a horrible role model for how to parent. I’m scared to death that I’m going to turn out be the same kind of father that he was. Am I doomed? Are my children doomed because I didn’t have a positive role model for a dad?
A: Not at all. Most dads, as they grow and develop as fathers often find themselves spending a lot of time thinking about their own fathers. And they tend to ask themselves the same kinds of questions you asked yourself: Was my dad someone I’d want to use as a role model, or was he exactly the kind of father I don’t want to be? Did he support me and nurture me when I was a kid myself, or was he absent or abusive? Like it or not, the relationship you had with your father when you were young is going to have some influence on your relationship with your own children.
This is either good news or bad news, depending on your perspective. A lot of dads whose relationship with their father wasn’t everything it should have been, worry, as you do, that they’re somehow destined to repeat his mistakes. Worse yet, they sometimes start to act accordingly, perhaps withdrawing from their child out of fear that they might hurt him.
For those readers who are satisfied with your relationship with your dad and you’d like to be the kind of father he was, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Just having had a good role model when you were growing up has given you some of the skills you need to parent your own children. Of course you’ll do things differently, but you’ll feel confident that you know what to do.
If you’re finding yourself doing–or not doing–things with your baby out of fear, you can relax. At least a little. The fact is that although your relationship with your dad influences your relationship with your kids, you still have a tremendous amount of choice in the matter. And most fathers who had less-than-ideal childhoods are able to absorb whatever good stuff they got from their dads and simply toss out the bad. In fact, researchers have found that men whose fathers were distant or unnurturing often end up providing particularly high levels of care for their children’s social, emotional, academic, and intellectual development in adolescence. And men whose dads supervised them inconsistently or inadequately, as well as men whose dads threatened, spanked (a lot), or frightened them as boys often turn things around and spend a lot of time working on their children’s physical and athletic development in childhood.