Some men are better grandfathers than they were fathers. That puzzled me for a long time, but I finally figured it out.
These are men who adore cute little children in their lives. They’re full of warmth and love for their grandchildren. They’re eager to see them. When you see men such as these you assume they must have been great fathers, but I’ve found that’s not always true.
Did these men just get more mature with age? No. There’s a joke you hear sometimes that’s not really a joke. Grandparents often seem to love children more than their own parents do, because grandparents can enjoy children for a little while — and then send them home to their parents.
What I’ve realized over the last year or so is that a lot of men act the same way with their own children. They want the cuteness. They want to be adored. They like being god-like figures in their children’s eyes. But when it matters, that sort of man is absent, at least emotionally and often physically.
I call these men “faux fathers.”
You’ve seen fathers of this sort. They’re the kind who happily greet their children when they get home — because the children are happy to see them and the adoration makes the men feel great. At least when they’re in the right mood.
But they’re more like grandfathers. They want the cuteness. They want the adoration. But then they want to dump the children — with their mothers, with caregivers, with schools or alone in their rooms — while they go back to living the selfish life they prefer.
These are the sorts of men who are often absent. They like to go off “with the boys” instead of spending time with their families. They find excuses to stay at work when there are difficult tasks to handle at home.
When they’re there, you would think these men love their children and are eager to see them more often. But they’re annoyed at the parts of being a parent that aren’t pleasant.
A real father is there for the bad times just as much as the good times.
He’s there — and he’s cheerful — when it’s his turn to rock and comfort a crying baby who won’t sleep. He’s an active part of taking care of a sick child. He’s willing — and eager — to learn about his child’s development so he can make sure he does the best job possible of preparing this little person to become an adult.
A real father serves his family. He does whatever is necessary for them, not only insofar as providing physically for them, but also makes it his business to take the lead in making his home a place that is emotionally, intellectually and spiritually healthy. This sort of man serves the needs of his wife, too, understanding that taking care of her — especially when she’s sick or doesn’t have other needs met — is part of his long-term job of being the example for his children of what a husband and father ought to be.
When I was at dinner Monday night, I watched a family eat in silence. They didn’t seem angry. They simply seemed disconnected and disinterested. There was a teen-age daughter who might have been 16 or 17. There was a boy who was about 11 or 12.
The girl wore earbuds and watched something on her smartphone the entire time they were there. She seemed to want to be somewhere else entirely. And she wore a t-shirt that said, “My dad broke my heart long before any guy had the chance.”
I don’t know their story, of course, but that didn’t stop me from filling in speculative thoughts anyway. Maybe there’s another explanation. Maybe that wasn’t even her father. Maybe my thoughts and assumptions were unfair. Maybe.
But my gut said I was looking at a broken family — maybe one still living in the same house together — and this “faux father” was the center of the dysfunction.
I’ve heard women married to such men say they would like to divorce — that they want to find happiness with a better man and build a functional home — but that they don’t want to separate their children from their fathers. They tell me that their children love their father — and are starved for his affection. When I ask a few questions, though, it’s usually clear that they are children who are starving for a full-time father — and who will never get what they need from the faux father who helped to create them.
A real father makes his family his top priority. A faux father is never going to do that. He’s too selfish — and children who are starving for his love are the ones who pay the highest long-term price.