When my wife and I began the journey of having a child, we anticipated it would be a little girl. This was not based on science, it was just a gut feeling. A feeling so strong that we imagined, as I think all soon-to-be-parents do, our child’s future. This involved a concern for what type of role-models to which we would expose our daughter. We had a pretty good list, which included: My wife’s grandmother; Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai; Merida of the animated feature Brave (one of our favorites); Hermione of the Harry Potter series; Matilda. And Moana would have been an excellent choice, too. If we had had a daughter.
But we had a boy. A boy who amazes us everyday. A boy whose future in the tenuous circumstances of this rapidly changing planet scares the hell out of me. I thought about this the other day during my afternoon commute. As I listened to the news, reports on the current state of our country and the world, I considered again about role-models. This time for little boys. And I came up with…
I couldn’t think of a single contemporary male, real or imagined, that I wanted to impress upon my son. Who are the typical “go-to’s” for male role-models, anyway? Pro-athletes: a bunch of over-paid whiners, if you ask me. Celebrities: they create personas of righteousness that none of them live up to. Politicians…excuse me while I catch my breath from laughing so hard!…(Okay, maybe John McCain.)
Then I realized my perception was a bit skewed. Where is it written that a role-model has to be a person of notoriety, or gender specific? And what are the qualities that make for an acceptable model of character and behavior, anyway?
Well, for me, a role-model should be…
Confident, willing to lead when necessary, yet be humble enough to admit one’s mistakes and correct them. Diplomatic: possess an ability to communicate and interact with others, and be respectful of their concerns. Hardworking, in and outside the workplace. Charitable, to friends, neighbors, and strangers. And optimistic, no matter how dire the circumstances.
I’m sure there are qualities I’ve missed; the list could be quite extensive, really. Question is: Who out there could satisfy all these qualifications? Anyone, anyone?
No one, actually, that I know of. We’re all human. But I think we all have, within the better part of us, many of these traits and others that make appropriate examples for my son to emulate and learn from. His grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. Our neighbors and friends. His teachers. I’ve come to recognize that they all have something to contribute; just like the adage “It takes a village…” I’m grateful for everyone in his life. And I’m grateful for him in my life. Because – and this is the obvious angle I’ve been avoiding – he’s challenged me to step up and be his number one role-model.
Here’s where those self-loathing voices send me cowering into a corner. Who the hell am I to be a role-model for anyone? What, in the questionable morals of my past, qualifies me for such a position?
The better part of me knows the answer: Because I’m his father.
And that’s what father’s should do.