I’ve never felt able to please my father. Growing up in rural Ontario I liked to read and write and act and draw and play sports and make believe; all these things my father disdained as a waste of time. My only pursuit meriting his approval was our shared passion for draft horses.
Horses for me were always a pleasure; for my Dad they were the means with which his family scratched out a hardscrabble existence. While my grandmother raised four children in a series of rental shacks with dirt floors and no plumbing, my grandfather bought and sold horses and used them to cut and haul lumber from the local bush. Horses also fostered an intense connection between my Grandpa and I from a young age, a connection that faded as I grew older and discovered some previously unspoken family history. I discovered my grandfather could be a violent alcoholic and at the age of ten my father quit school to work full time in a local sawmill to support his family while my Grandpa periodically disappeared on drunken binges. My Dad never had a chance to enjoy much of a childhood of his own; no time for leisure or fantasy or imagination; no time to just play and indulge in the wonder of being a kid. It was only after I grew older and moved away from home that I began to understand how my father’s upbringing had impacted our own sometimes troubled relationship.
When my own son, Finnegan, was born two summers ago, I was determined to break this cycle. The legacy my Grandpa passed on to my Dad was a complete inability to express his emotions through anything other than anger, an emotion I have also struggled to control.
As a father, I hope to model a different way of being. I want Finnegan to feel safe enough to speak his mind on anything without fear of judgment or censure. I want him to know he is loved by me always and without qualification, no matter what choices he makes. I want to share my love of horses with him and show him the magical powers of these magnificent creatures. As a child I was taught that a horse is a thing that must be subdued; broken by brute force to bend to the will of its master. I never believed it as a child but was always too frightened to say so.
Now that I’m an adult and a professional educator of both children and horses–and most importantly, a father–I never again want to force any living creature to bend to my will. I’ve learned it is better to ask instead. So I will try every day to love my own son unconditionally and show him all the ways I know how. I will follow my own path and offer my hand, and hope that some of the time Finnegan chooses to follow. And when he chooses otherwise, I can only hope I will love him all the more for having the courage of his convictions, and be man enough to follow his lead.