Actor Alec Baldwin was on Larry King this week, hawking his new book. Perhaps this is small-minded of me, but I haven’t read it and don’t expect to. Baldwin is good on sitcoms, but has zero credibility with me on fatherhood. Why? Because he seems primarily interested in blaming someone for his troubles—and being bitter and angry about it.
To my mind, the bottom line is that Dad is the grown-up in any relationship with is child or stepchild. NOTHING anyone does justifies a father abusing his child. NOTHING. Nothing ANYONE does. Period. And by my lights, abusing a child includes hitting him, screaming obscenities at her over the phone, or engaging in spite-, ego- and power-driven battles with the child’s other parent(s).
As an advocate for fathers, I find it incredibly counter-productive when fathers focus so much attention, energy and verbiage on blaming someone else for their situation. I suspect that comment might piss some people off, so I’ll explain.
Strategically, the effort to improve fathers’ position/status/responsibility within the family is undermined when the loudest (and, often, ONLY) words folks hear about fathering are variations on these 2 sentiments: “mothers are b—chs” and “the courts (or “the people’s republic of insert-state-here”) are out to screw me/us.” And that’s merely the problems this creates strategically for the fatherhood movement—and says nothing about how such attitudes poison our very own children.
People who have followed my work over the years know that I’m a hard-ass on this subject. My job as a dad is to work on strengthening my relationship with my children. The first, primary step in that process is self-examination: looking at my own attitudes, values, words and actions. Close on its heels is the step of then responding to my self-examination (and the situations that life presents) in ways that best support and strengthen my children’s physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological growth. These steps regularly demand self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice is seldom fun, but that's life; if I didn’t want to have any self-sacrifice, I should not have become a father (or a human being for that matter…but that’s another rant!)
Indeed, there is a strong argument that these steps are the ONLY things I can do. I can never control the attitudes, behaviors or words of another person—I can only control my own. So my job is to spend my energy keeping my side of the street as clean as I possibly can—not matter WHAT anyone else does.To quote my good friend (and non-custodial, divorced father) Bill Klatte: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the people I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me.” (BTW, if you’re a divorced dad who hasn’t yet read Bill’s book Live-away Dads: Staying a Part of Your Children's Lives When They Aren't a Part of Your Home, then you’re operating with one hand tied behind your back.)
And to quote Thomas Aquinas: “Resentment is the sword with which we pierce our own soul” (Or as Phillip Fullmer put it when asked if he resented being fired as Tennessee’s football coach after all those years: “No, because resenting someone is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.”)
There are many forums and men welcoming the message that the Alec Baldwins of the world disseminate. It’s always been one of my goals to fight messages of bitterness, blame and anger among dads. The best service fathers can give to one another is to engage in self-examination and support each other in doing the next right thing to help our daughter grow up healthy—even if she (or anyone else) tells us to “go f—k yourself” in the moments or weeks or years after we do the right thing.
My job is my job and my life is not someone else’s fault. To think or act otherwise is to think and act as a child. And when I’m a dad, someone else gets to be the child—not me.