ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: The good-enough father
© Another Day in the Country
When I was in graduate school, studying to become a family counselor, I learned the term, “A good enough parent.” A “good enough parent” is one who provides some of the things that a child needs — like food, shelter, and safety. There are, however, at least nine or 10 more things that a child needs to thrive.
Every child needs to know they are loved. They need to engage in conversation — even before they can talk. They need to be listened to. They need praise for their effort. They need training and exposure to new experiences. They need unconditional support. They need boundaries. And they need traditions — old and new.
That’s a lot of needs for a parent to attend to. It’s a serious commitment to bring a child into the world. The “good enough parent” can manage about four or five of those needs listed above. Hopefully, there’s a second parent involved, and maybe they can furnish more of the list. Then there’s the really good parent who works on all 12 needs and more, unflinchingly.
My parents were a great team. Like most couples of their era, they divided the responsibilities. Mom took care of the inside of the house. Dad took care of anything outside. He managed the necessities that required money. Mom filled in with conversations over food, life skills, love, traditions, and praise. Mom was heroic and Dad, who was gone a lot, fell into the “good enough” category.
My father’s goal was always to give his daughters a better life than he had growing up during the Great Depression.
“I made sure you had a better life than I had growing up,” he would say to us.
“What more could you want?” he once asked his grown daughters, and it’s a question I often asked myself.
My mother couldn’t even imagine a better husband than my dad. He was her ideal. He kept his marriage vows. He didn’t drink, smoke, or swear. He was faithful to his chosen beliefs. He was a dedicated worker, took good care of his vehicles. He knew how to handle money and he always planned ahead.
Growing up farming in Kansas, Dad was always trying to figure out better methods of farming, better breeds of livestock, more efficient ways to make a living off the farm, and how to get a new piece of equipment. When he felt called to the ministry, he took that same drive with him, endlessly improving people, congregations, church buildings, and grounds. He was charismatic and people loved him; but at home, it was different for us.
More time with him wasn’t particularly what we needed because spending time with him could be difficult. He just was not temperamentally suited to withstand the noise and clutter that children inevitably bring. Children were to “be seen and not heard,” in his era.
To add to the complication, we were “the minister’s daughters,” supposedly to be examples of proper decorum at all times. I used to wish desperately that my father was a still a farmer like Grandpa or a barber like Uncle Dick — anything but a preacher.
When my parents retired, they moved to a small acreage in Oregon and built themselves a little farm.
“It’s heaven on earth,” my mother would say.
Their mini-farm was perfect, and Dad delighted in keeping it that way — until old age and a malfunctioning heart drained his energy. It was clear that they could no longer stay on the farm. They needed to come live near us, those girls from California who came back to Ramona. This was the last place that Dad wanted to be — back in Kansas with his memories of hard times, off his own land, away from his own house, being cared for by his unchurched, willful daughters.
It was Father’s Day when I began writing this column, and never could finish it. What did I really want to say about “good enough” fathers? That I wished Dad could have done more than five out of 12 parental tasks? Was it enough that Dad taught us how to work? Was it enough that he was an honest man, an honorable citizen?
Every Father’s Day, Jess and I used to stand in front of the greeting card display looking for an appropriate card to send Dad. They don’t make cards that say, “I know you loved me even if you couldn’t say so,” or “Sorry, but home was always calmer when you were busy elsewhere.”
I often think of my father when I’m mowing the lawn because he taught me how to mow when I was a teenager. He was exacting, seldom pleased but I tried and I find myself still mowing the lawn the way he taught me. I don’t like to see grass blown out onto the road or the sidewalks. Dad taught me that. I love mowing. Dad loved it, too.
Our best gift to Dad was to help Mom care for him until he died. His best gift to us was to teach us how wonderful it can be to spend another day in the country.
Last modified Nov. 13, 2019