Breaking Dad

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    Father-and-son relationships determine the trajectory of the world.

    Think of the most powerful world leader, the godliest man, or the biggest business tycoon you know. Choose the most miserable loser or the most hardened criminal you can think of — they all had/have fathers who contributed to these men’s stunning successes or abysmal failures.

    It could’ve been their real dads, a surrogate dad or a father figure. Their dads could’ve been present or absent. Active or passive. Loving or abusive. Softly masculine (I don’t want to say effeminate) or hard-core macho. The spectrum is broad, but there you have it. Fathers can make or break their sons. You’ve probably seen it up close, in your own family.

    There was this five-year-old boy who, without any coaching or tutoring, passed a private school’s entrance exams. The sons of some of the country’s wealthiest went to this school, and it was known for its very high standards. In short, it was tough to get in — even if you had the money and the connections. But this little boy from a middle-income family got in. I guess he was pretty smart.

    But just a few months after school began, the boy showed signs of listlessness. Which teachers could’ve easily misinterpreted as laziness. He was also very unresponsive, uncooperative. Before the year ended, to everyone’s surprise, the boy’s mom yanked him out of school without even talking to his teachers. So his teachers didn’t know that the boy’s parents had just separated. Surprisingly, the boy’s father didn’t lift a finger. He didn’t even try to find out how he could help his son, considering that he was an alumnus of that school. How tragic that the father chose to be absent at a very crucial point in his son’s life.

    At age five, the trajectory of his son’s life changed — because this father chose not to help his son. I don’t know why he didn’t. But 20 years down the road, this little boy became a drop-out, a drug user who got a girl pregnant, a loafer who lived off other people’s money, and wouldn’t stay long enough in any job. I’m wondering: what would’ve happened if his father took the time to take care of his son — his very smart son — and helped him get back to school? Helped his son cope with his parents’ separation?

    Let’s shift to another scenario. Also a real one. This dad sends his five-year-old son to take the entrance exams in the same school. After some time, the little boy gets bored and merrily leaves his exam unfinished. His parents are aghast. Of course he didn’t pass! So the dad goes to one of the school’s higher-ups, every day for a week, to ask (no, to beg) him to give his son a chance.

    On the 7th day, the man gets weary of the dad’s persistence, finally relents, but says, “Ok.

    I will take him in because you were a good student here. But, God forbid, if your son fails in the future, don’t come to me to help him. I won’t.” And the dad said yes.

    Fast forward seven years, the dad goes to the person who helped his son, and tells him, “Sir. My son graduated from gradeschool with honors. Thank you for giving him a chance.”

    The man was happy to know this.

    Four years later, the dad goes back to the same man and says, “Sir. Just wanted you to know that my son graduated with a gold medal. Not the valedictorian’s, but he got the gold medal for the school paper. Thank you so much again for giving him a chance.” This time, the man was even happier that he made the right decision, 10 years ago.

    The first boy and the second boy were almost the same age. They took the entrance exams to the same school. But unlike the first one, the second boy went on finish college from the same school. At age 26, he became a young VP for Finance in a small company, then a bigger one. He continues to do well in his career. He has a happy marriage, a good family life. He’s a very hands-on, devoted father to his son. This early in his son’s life, he has chosen to establish the right trajectory for his son. I’m sure we know where that came from. The probability is high that his son will do well in the future. And will have a lot less hang-ups in life.

    Sometimes I wonder how differently things would’ve turned out for the second boy if his dad didn’t persistently wait — for a week — outside that school official’s office? If he didn’t swallow his pride? If he didn’t go out on a limb for his son?

    To this day, I still wonder — with much sadness — what would’ve happened to that first boy, if his dad took the time, made the sacrifice, to help his son get through the first big hurdle in his life. Didn’t this father think that his help would’ve made all the difference?

    Fathers in our country have to break out of the mold that a matriarchal society has used to stifle them into silence. They must break free from mothers who continue to dominate them, even if they’re already 50. They must break free from the mold that has brainwashed them into thinking that they are forever little boys — little boys who should leave “domestic matters” to their mothers, their wives.

    Break free, dads. Be the fathers you were designed to be.