My father died when I was six years old.
I only remember a powder blue suit with white ruffles on this guy lying in a casket. I remembered smiling because it was funny to me at that age that everyone was dressed up with a stranger laying down in front of them.
It was high drama.
Even before that age my mother played a dual role in our family structure – Mom and Dad.
So my experience in being a dad is from what my mother exemplified. A little from my stepdad who tried to fill a role. He did as good a job as we let him.
We did a 3-part series this week on the dual generational impact of child maltreatment. Experts in the area like Breanna Kramer-Reisberg of Lee County Health Department say we learn how to be parents – good or bad – from watching our parents. That makes sense.
I’ve seen good parents in this community, and I’ve heard the stories of the bad.
When I first heard that Lee County ranked 99th out of 99 counties in Iowa in instances of child neglect, first, I questioned whether I heard that right. Talk about your ‘woke’ moments.
Then I reached out to Kramer-Reisberg and asked her to talk about what that data meant, and we ended up talking about it for close to an hour.
After several emails and conversations with other advocates like Arin Jones of the Iowa Department of Human Services and Shelley Oltman’s of ISU’s Extension, there was just too much information for one article. So I split it into three pieces.
But the end result, and a theme carried throughout the series, was that we learn to be great parents, or to be bad, in part by what we absorb as children.
I don’t know if I’m a good father or not. But the rating is not nearly as important as the memories that I bring with me. Genuine questions of whether I did the right things by my children haunt me daily, among many, many other things. What doesn’t haunt me is that neglect and abuse were never, ever part of the equation.
I think that’s why the Lee County number hit me so hard.
Kramer-Reisberg said that we inherently want to be good parents, but it’s the socioeconomic forces and the apprehension of asking for help that makes it generational. Jones said the approach has to be dual-generational. You approach the issues plaguing struggling parents, while addressing the social hurdles of the children.
I was thinking today that in actuality I learned what it is to be a father from my mother. Respect for people, the importance of family, helping a stranger, and worrying… all the time.
Very little in this world makes sense. But it does make sense that we can take better care of our children. There are so many resources in the county to help those that are struggling. Sometimes its just making that first phone call. One day.
And then the next.
Most kids say they don’t remember being poor, but at times we were. But my mom accessed the resources she did to make sure we had food, a roof over our head, and clothes, and sometimes those were subsidized resources.
But she used them as a bridge to something better. That’s how it’s supposed to work. And she kept us a family and it wasn’t always easy, but it was always about choices.
And any parent reading this who knows they are struggling, or isn’t sure they are struggling, there are choices to be made. And on this holiday, take measure of your circumstances, look at your children, and make a choice.
I see the results of the choices my mother made in all three of my brothers, my nieces and nephews, and even her grandchildren.
Those choices have led to solid lives of those brothers, nieces and nephews, and even grandchildren. Willing to accept that nothing is perfect is just part of the whole thing.
Happy Father’s Day, Mom.
I toured the Mississippi River Experience on the Legacy Thursday. You know the 45-foot touring vessel with the yellow canopy. It’s a good tour, up close of the banks, with a knowledgeable captain and really closeup view of the Fort Madison BNSF bridge. It’s a good $30 spend – But that’s Beside the Point.
Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of the Pen City Current and can be reached at email@example.com