Being “Friends” with My Dad
At one time, I wrote a monthly column for our local paper on parenting. The opportunity was both a joy and a privilege. The Jackson (TN) Sun was gracious with its space, and I was grateful to my editor, Jacque Hillman, for her input and advice.
I wrote a Father’s Day column in 2009 that is probably the widest-read essay I’ve ever written. And, as we head into Father’s Day, I thought I would revisit it below. Amazingly, after it ran in early June, the folks at Facebook—yes, actual Facebook!—asked me if they could run the piece as their showcase essay for the holiday, pushing it out to hundreds of thousands (nearly a million, if I remember correctly) of subscribers. I can’t find a digital copy to link anymore but I thought I would share it in its original text form. It’s quaint in places to see how I viewed Facebook at the time, as it was still fairly new.
In 2009, I was 45; the twins were only 11. I’m now 12 years older, the twins are both college graduates and starting their own lives, and my parents live in Texas near my wonderful brother, Steve, and his wife. I have 12 more years of respect for my parents and I’m prouder than ever to be Gene C. Fant, Jr., the eldest son of the one and only Gene C. Fant, Sr.! Love you, Pop!
The article I originally wrote is copied below.
Striving To Be Your Child’s ‘Best Friend’ Not Something You Want To Do
A few years ago, I started a Facebook account to communicate with my students. Many of them had stopped using email, so Facebook became the only way I could catch them in a timely manner.
Facebook is an online social networking site that connects people with information, photos, and updates about one another. When you are connected, you become “friends.”
After about a year, I started finding some of my own real-life friends from former jobs, high school, and even elementary school.
It was awesome to reconnect, in some cases after 35 years, to learn what they’d been up to and to see how much their kids looked like they did the last time I had seen them. It’s sort of like having access to everyone’s Christmas newsletters, only I get to see them over the course of the year rather than in one simple note.
I think, however, that Facebook might be about to die. My dad “poked” me the other day to see if we could be friends. So did my aunt, my brother’s mother-in-law, and a bunch of other folks from the previous generation. This means that it has expanded to two or three generations beyond the basic 16- to 22-year-old set.
Easy come, easy go.
Becoming Facebook friends with my dad, however, got me to thinking about being actual friends with my dad.
I am Gene Clinton Fant Jr., named after Dad. I look just like Dad. I have a degree from one of his alma maters. Our voices are eerily similar. We’re awfully close, and I call him for insight and advice all the time.
“Friend,” however, now that’s a different matter.
We fought like crazy during my teen years. He held a firm hand of discipline. He made sure that I not only did what I was told to do, but also, what I ought to do without being told. He insisted that we spend time together as a family, sometimes in ways that excluded my friends or contradicted my personal plans.
I know he was ready to pack it all in on a few occasions and let me figure out what the real world was all about. But he constantly held me to high standards.
He admonished me and he prayed for me—sometimes out loud and lots of times in quiet when I didn’t even realize what he was doing. Simply put, there’s no way I would have called him my “friend” when I was about 15.
It’s amazing how much coolness he developed when I was about 22. I learned that my successes on the job and in school were related to his discipline. I found that the high standards I held for myself, which he instilled, were invaluable. When I became a father, Dad suddenly gained extra-cool status, as I found myself echoing the very words he had uttered to me.
His standards had become my standards, his wisdom my wisdom. Somehow along the way, we had become friends—not because he had bought me things or given in to my whims in an effort to be my pal—but because he had earned it through demonstrating his resolute love for me.
I always cringe when I hear a parent brag that he or she is “best friends” with their 13-year-old child. More times than not, this means that the parent has bought such friendship at a cost of all authority over the child’s life. If you don’t think so, watch what happens when a teenager’s friends try to say something even remotely harsh or corrective to him or her. They are friends no more.
There are seasons to life, and the role of parent is the one that ought to take precedence over our children’s most formative years. There will be a season of friendship that is earned, not purchased, down the road.
Of all the friends I have on Facebook, there are many whom I love. There are a few whom I respect. There are none that I both love and respect quite like my dear friend, Gene C. Fant, Sr.
Jackson Sun Jun 2, 2009.