Fatherhood allows opportunities for reflection: Columnist James Gordon recognizes his own dad’s sacrifices now that he has boys of his own

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Becoming a father puts a lot of things into perspective.


Stuff that seemed so important, even all-consuming, when you were younger sort of melts away, replaced by this new, little being in the centre of your life. Material things you once coveted, and have maybe since acquired, you would give away in an instant to ensure that little being’s health and happiness.

It also, in many ways, puts your own father into perspective.

The theme of this issue is In Celebration of Fatherhood, and June 17th (Father’s Day!) gives us all an opportunity to think about and acknowledge our own dads’ efforts.

That process has changed for me since welcoming two boys into the world. While everyone can, intellectually, say why dads are great, becoming a father allows you to appreciate your own dad in ways you otherwise couldn’t.

You get how rewarding it is, yes, but also how challenging it can be. You see up close that it’s not just about the caring things he did, but also the way he faced down challenges that you never grasped as a child.

When you’re young, you are, thankfully, pretty oblivious to things like career pressures, bills, home maintenance and a whole host of other adult issues. Facing them yourself, while also shielding the kids from them and working to provide the best upbringing possible, gives you a real window into what your own dad had to manage.

It also allows you to better understand the backstory of mistakes he may have made, and discover, as you make your own parenting mistakes, that nobody is perfect. Fatherhood is a learning process that doesn’t end until you do.

I’ve found that, as I’ve gotten older and gone through that learning process, memories of mistakes have faded and memories of the times my dad came through for me have moved to the forefront.

The summer I finished university, I decided I wanted to take my then-fiancée (now wife) Amanda out west to meet my family. Scattered as they were across the prairies and mountains all the way from Winnipeg to Vancouver Island, the best way to do that was by car.

I’d asked my dad if we could borrow his rickety old Toyota Camry – the one with no cruise control and no air-conditioning – for our journey. We were in student debt at the time, and I don’t think we’d really thought about what we’d need to bring along for a multi-week trip. He said sure.

When we arrived in Winnipeg and went to pick up the vehicle, we were surprised to find dad’s other, brand-new car packed with coolers, food and a bunch of other stuff we hadn’t thought about. It stands out to me now as one of the first times I really appreciated, as an adult, something he’d gone out of his way to do for me.

Later on that trip, we were having dinner with my aunt in B.C., and she was reminiscing about helping my dad renovate our ancient house from top to bottom. At the time – I was probably seven to nine years old – he was also doing full-time shift work and trying to get a university degree, which he didn’t have the opportunity to pursue when he was younger.

The way she described him trying to juggle everything all at once struck me.

When you’re a young child, you don’t see any of that stuff, and when you clash – which we sometimes did, given how different our personalities were and how little I cared for authority – you don’t consider the outside challenges your parents might be facing or the thought processes that go into some of the decisions they make.

It was the first of many eye-openers for me, which have only accelerated as I’ve welcomed two boys of my own into the world. I can honestly say I have a true appreciation for the complexities of father-son relationships, having now been on both sides of them.

Each year since having boys of my own, I’ve grown closer to my own dad. He’s not just a father figure now, but also great friend and a wise counsellor on navigating the same parenting challenges he once faced.

And that’s something I think is worth celebrating.