Friday, July 1, 2016

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1516: Struggling to be a better father

  Father’s Day is always hard for me. It makes me focus on my failures as a father. Every bit of praise enlarges my failures rather than lifting my successes. I know it’s strange, but that’s the way it is for me on Father’s Day.

  Most of my children think I am a good father. I know because they say so on various occasions. I believe they really think that I am a good father. They would not lie about such a thing; they would simply not say anything. I am sure my daughters think that I am a good father. I am not as sure if my son thinks the same. There are others who say that I have been a good father to them even though we do not share the same blood line. I know they all mean what they say, but I know how much I fall short as a father. Father’s Day is always hard for me.

  I am very much a father in the mold of my father. I had hoped to do differently. My father was there all during my childhood. However, he did not spend a lot of time with me or any of his 13 children. And we did not expect him to do so. I did not spend a lot of individual time with my children. I wish I had. Father’s Day is always hard for me.

  My father was a hard worker. He worked on the farm before he went to his saw mill job. When he came from his job, he worked into the night, sometimes by the light of wood fires. He was always working. Even after he retired in his seventies, he picked up cans on the side of the road. I am a hard worker. I work long hours, usually seven days a week. Just as in the case of my father, hard work does not make us good fathers. Father’s Day is always hard for me.

  My father was a quiet man. He did not give much advice. He did not discuss things with us children. He told us what to do, and we did it. I am quiet in my own way. I don’t give my children unsolicited advice. If they ask me, I discuss the issues with them. If they don’t ask, I let them find their own way. Father’s Day is always hard for me.

  My father was a provider. He brought his check home to my mother each Friday. She paid the bills and handled financial matters for the family. My father could not read or write his own name, but he was a provider. My mother was also a provider. I think I am a provider. My wife works just as I do. However, I deposit our checks and pay the bills, but my wife does nearly all the purchasing and other such matters. I did not teach my children how to handle financial matters, just how to pay bills. Father’s Day is always hard for me.

  When my daughter Malika was a child, she said to me, “Daddy, I know you don’t think you are a good father. You are a much better father than you think. You are not as good a husband as you think.” I really thought I was a good husband. However, I took to heart the husband part of the advice and tried to do better. I rejected the part about being a good father. Father’s Day is always hard for me.

  My young children loved for me to play “Tickling Monster” with them. I would turn out the lights in one of their bedrooms. I would then announce that I was the “Tickling Monster” as I tried to tickle them. The face of my watch glowed in the dark so they could see a glow on my left wrist as my hands moved toward them in the dark as I said real slowly, “I am the Tickling Monster.” They are all in or near their 40s but they still talk about the “Tickling Monster.”  

  One time my son Kindaka wanted me to take him to a movie. I promised that I would. However, I was in a very difficult Senate race and reneged on my commitment. My campaign slogan was Bank on Hank. He was very disappointed and angry. He told a friend of mine, “You can’t bank on no Hank.” Father’s Day is always hard for me.

  When our children were young and Faya Rose had to go out of town, she always arranged for someone to care or our children so I could work. I was glad. However, I now know I should have taken care of our children on those occasions. Work was a higher priority. Father’s Day is always hard for me.

  When our children were a little older and Faya had to work late or something, I would go home and cook for them. However, it was always the same dish – Umoja. I could have it prepared in 19 minutes from the time I hit the door. I also learned to cook a tasty breakfast including banana pancakes and cinnamon-nutmeg French toast. When we gather now, they ask me to cook Umoja and/or banana pancakes. Father’s day is always hard for me.

  Several of us played basketball every Thursday night at 9 p.m. Oftentimes, my brother by marriage, Harold Gaines and I would take my son Kindaka and Harold’s son Kenyatta with us. They would play on the other end of the basketball court. I thought we were doing something good to take them along. I was caught off guard some years ago when my son asked me why I did not spend more time working with him on basketball when he was a child. Even though he played basketball in high school, I knew I had again fallen short of the fatherhood mantle. Father’s Day is always hard for me.

  My children loved to hear stories of my childhood. They especially loved the stories of struggle. I now know I was teaching them through the stories. I was teaching them about the gift of struggle. Maybe I should not be so hard on myself. Father’s Day would be better.

EPILOGUE – We rarely if ever see ourselves as others see us. Others rarely see us as we see ourselves.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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