4. Like Father Like Son?

As I mentioned in my first post, I grew up with a dad who was a physician. In that post I probably made the mistake of trying to compare dads of today to our parents or even their parents. The role of “dad” has evolved through the generations. Due to that, I think there are some aspects of today’s “dad” that we never learned about when we were growing up. The same will be true for our kids.

My dad was kind enough to read my first blog post. In turn, he sent me a response on his thoughts on how the job description of dad has changed over the generations of our family. Below is his response.   I think we always have to remember that how we do things today are going to be different than how our parents did it during their time.  That’s why parenting is so hard.  The constant changing of our world does not allow for one set way of doing things.  I’m hoping this can be the first of many guest posts, discussing our differing views on what it means to be a dad. I will be forever grateful for what my dad has taught me.

The definition of being a “good” dad is a moving target.  The things that you might agonize about would never have entered the mind of Gottlieb, Arvid, August, Howard or perhaps even me.  

Arvid came from a poor rocky farm in southern Sweden and his father was often away from home working as a carpenter or making charcoal.  Probably the major togetherness that they experienced was when Arvid helped his dad make Charcoal.  After completing 8 years of school, he was sent to work for another farmer.  How did his father, Olof, define being a good father?  I think the only thing he worried about was attempting to make enough money to provide for his wife and 6 children…end of story?  He and his wife came to America at age 70 because all of their children had emigrated, but lived on a 40 acre homestead and didn’t come to be with Arvid and his family until Olof had a stroke.

Gottlieb’s reputation “preceded him” and doesn’t sound like he had all that much to do with his children other than using his farm as a way to provide for them.  

I’m not sure what kind of relationship that August had with my dad.  He may have taught him to hunt and fish but most likely this was passed on by his brother Edwin and other friends.  August was away from home a lot due to work.

I think my dad fell into the category of defining a good father as being a good provider, so he worked as a forester, would go away to fight forest fires, but he did take care of me in the evening when my mom worked as a nurse when we lived in Bemidji.  He taught me to shoot, hunt, fish, to work on the farm, to do rudimentary mechanics and helped teach me to read by opening up a grade school primer and saying “read”.  After we moved to the farm, I only saw him on week-ends until I was 12 and then for 2 weeks in the summer when we would put up hay.  He didn’t play sports with me, but none of the fathers did that with their kids.  Playing games was stuff that moms did.  My Uncle Ord taught me to swim and Erma’s husband Gene taught me a lot of life lessons. 

I would have to say that in my generation, being a good dad was still limited to providing for your family.  Yes, there were TV characters like “Father knows best” but those were city folks who had time to sit around at home in the evening or on the week-end and make wise pronouncements.  At the time that I went to med school, the medical profession was just beginning to get away from the idea that your entire life was to be dedicated to your patients.  The idea of a personal life was not part of the equation.  Some internships still had every other night call.  I only had to spend 3 months with every other night call.  The remainder was every 3rd night and then were expected to work the next day.  Residencies were called that because the Resident was expected to live in the hospital.  This was no longer the case when I was a resident, but again had every 3rd night call and worked the next day.  We were viewed as being soft because the really dedicated doctors, like the one your mom worked for at UCSD, would spend all their time at work and doing research, and their wives would make appointments during the day for them to see their kids.  I don’t think that they worried too much about the definition of a good dad.   

So my generation was torn between the desire to not be like our parents or like the doctor’s of the past, but were also made to feel guilty about not dedicating all of our time to our patients.  Thus, I tried to be the provider, but had to rejoin the Navy Reserve in order for us to have enough money to pay all the bills and to put away some savings; I felt obligated to provide care to our patient population because in many cases I was the only one who had been trained to do it.  I used sports as a way to be with you and play with you guys, doing the things that I wish my dad had done.  But this was always clouded by worrying about patients and their outcomes, whether my pager was going to go off, trying to do my best with expectations of perfection, as with anything less may lead to law suits.  I was trying to find some “shelter from the storm” amongst all these competing demands.

It is now that I see your sister interact with their kids and how you guys interact with the boys that I began to question the choices I made and regret a lot of my decisions.  The reality is that judging myself by today’s standards when at the time that you were growing up we were living by a totally different practice of medicine and parenting paradigm can only lead to a failing grade.  As Jack Pritchard, who used to be one of the Editors for Williams Obstetrics  said:  “no practice of medicine was totally worthless, it can always be used as a poor example.”  So who knows what the future will bring.  The new book, “A Children’s Bible” by Millet speaks to parenting failure, and more importantly, the failure of all the preceding generations.  Would recommend it to you…made me feel better about what I did as a parent, but more guilty about my relationship with the world.

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