Dad Reckoning
November 23, 2009

While I was growing up I put very little thought into the kind of dad I was someday going to be. I was too busy daydreaming and doing the stuff that young boys do in their prepubescent years. Back then, I foresaw myself entering early manhood as the amalgam – perhaps even the embodiment – of all my childhood television heroes. I grew up on the TV, and all the figures of fatherhood and masculinity that the Hollywood of the 1960s and ’70s had to offer, daily paraded their wares in front of my young sponge of a mind.

During my childhood afternoons I found myself less in the sunshine or out playing in the yard, than in the dimly lit basement of my mother’s home, watching the Mel Jass Matinee Movie, airing such stuff as The Adventures of Robin Hood, with Errol Flynn swashbuckling his way across the thirteen inch screen of our black-and-white portable television. I had no idea that the movie was filmed in color, but I was drawn to the character more than the imagery. The twelfth century Earl of Locksley impressed me with his charm in the face of treachery, and his damn-the-arrows-and-full-speed-ahead bravado. I knew nothing of – and cared even less to know – anything about the alcohol-sodden real life of the actor portraying the character; I was totally enraptured with the fiction he created.

The 1950’s icon of fatherhood, Jim Anderson of Father Knows Best,represented for me the rock-solid family man in his omnipresent reruns. Always in love with his wife and children, he meded out familial justice and juvenile discipline as if he had created the things himself. The character represented something I was missing inmy own life and family, and he began to mould for me what I thought a man and father was supposed to be.

Then there was Old West government agent, James West of The Wild, Wild West who displayed a peerless tenacity in the face of danger, and a campy resourcefulness that weekly surpassed the contrivations and machinations of his evil foes.

Every day, for several hours-a-day, I absorbed the heroes of Tinsel Town. They were the manly icons that constructed my view of masculinity; the varied elements that comprised the surrogate father of my youth. There was, however, one cathode-induced hero who was able to stand head and shoulders above them all…..

No other syndicated character could compare with the fictional leader who, to me in my prepubescence, represented an image of what I wanted to become as a man; an escape from the turmoil of my youth. Designed by his creator to be the Horatio Hornblower of outer space, Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise established for me the boundaries of what I began to believe a man was supposed to be.

I know that is a little scary, especially in light of Kirk’s womanizing ways, but there was something very different about the good captain that struck a chord of harmony with that little boy back in the late 1960s. It wasn’t until recent years that I was able to uncover the buried emotions of my past and discover why, as a young boy, I found a “kindred spirit,” if you will, with the fictitious space-age adventurer.

Now, for the record, I must state that while I believe in good psychology, I have a great fear of much of the psycho-babbly, gobbelty-gook associated with the more non-scientific facet of the craft. And, quite frankly, as a Guy, I am not always comfortable revealing the “creepier” side of my emotional make up. So if I delve into either of those areas too deeply, extend some gracious latitude by accepting what you can, and leaving behind what you cannot go along with.

As I was growing up, I buried myself in the lore of Star Trek, idolizing its main character, mimicking his mannerisms and persona. You were on very shaky ground with me if you ever criticized the Captain or his show to my face. There was a need for escape during those formative years of my life, and I have since learned that I used my affinity with Kirk as a means of burying the things that were too painful for me to deal with in the open. In a very real sense, I took my childhood pains and buried them in a metaphoric tin can somewhere out there in my backyard. And now as an adult man, searching desperately for the source of buried anger, hidden pain and modes of operation, I have stepped out into that old backyard in the misty dark of midnight with nothing but a flashlight, shovel and the tattered pieces of a old, hand-drawn map marked with an “X” saying “this way to buried treasure” sketched out so many years ago.

Captain Kirk, to me, was a lonely man. Sure he had friends, advisors and a great many lovers, but at his core, when you stripped away all the facades of his position, he was a man alone. The pains and mistakes of his past molded him into the person he was. His inner pain drove him to singularity, and he conquered his demons by cheating them and scrapping his way into the light.

As a kid, I had a great many demons in need of burying, and though I had no understanding or knowledge of the language or techniques of psychology, I found an ally in the starship captain when i effectively buried in him the things with which I was unable to cope. When I was six-years-old, my older brother and i were repeatedly sexually abused by an older man who watched us while our single mother was working as a waitress. Knowledge of these goings-on were kept very secret. My brother and I, under threat, never said anything of the incidents to our mother. The sexual abuse, along with years of physical abuse became the stuff of hidden baggage much later in my life. The anger, rage and fear of being controlled and/or abandoned that manifested in me as a child found a secure burial when I discovered Captain Kirk, a “father” who would take away the pain. These weren’t conscious, cognitive actions on my part, but rather the natural subconscious survival techniques of a mind too young to know how to deal with what went wrong.

The memories of the abuse never left me, but because I buried the feelings, those memories faded from full, vibrant color to back-and-white with a few shades of grey. When i reached the age of adulthood, I could recount the memories of the abuse, but never get in touch with how it actually affected me inside – and, quite frankly, I was oblivious to the damage that had been done.

In a very real sense, Kirk was the key to the unraveling of the mystery of my buried past. As I grew older, i grew less and less enchanted with the fantasy of Star Trek and its characters, and more into the mechanics of how a program like that was created and developed. I found that as i matured and in all earnestness sought to reconcile my past and dig for the missing pieces, Kirk became less and less of a necessity. I realize this now, but back then I had no clue of what was happening. The understanding has come with the retrospect.

As I began to learn more about myself and how to cope with the pain of the past, the Captain simultaneously became less of a hero figure and more of what he actually was – a fictional television character. As i learned to deal with my past, he became less important. In a sense, he held my pain until i was able to handle it myself. Funny how the mind works.

As I became a young man, I had no clue as to the nature of my buried issues, and it wasn’t until I hit my late twenties that a lot of this stuff even started to surface. By that time, Kirk had long since passed into the realm of childhood hero, replaced with a fondness that attached itself to the memory of how much I had idolized him as a kid. And I am convinced it is because he carried my pains.
So what does all this have to do with being a dad? Does any of this have anything to do with my faith? Easy. Even though i had all this junk sloshing around in my head, God, if you will, graciously provided avenues of coping until I was able to cope with what was really going on. This i accept by faith. In a very real sense, the fictional character of James T. Kirk became a divinely appointed receptacle for the issues that God knew I was just not able to handle. And as i grew stronger and more able to cope with these issues, God, in providential wisdom began releasing the facts. Of course you have to believe in a Higher Power for any of this to make any sense beyond the simple – or complex, depending on where you are – psychology of it all. My quest is still a work-in-progress, but I feel as though every day is a step in the right direction toward healing and overcoming my past.

Something else I learned through all of these experiences: God is there for me to dump on. God craves my trust and waits with open arms to receive my mess.

As a Father and a Dad, I want to instill in my children a trust in ME. I want them to grow up knowing who their father is, and that their dad is always available. I want them to grow up knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can dump on me and have full faith that I am there to receive them as they are and hold them up. And as they learn to trust and have faith in me, they will inevitably learn to trust and have faith in God. After all, God – if you believe this sort of thing – established fatherhood as a picture of what he ultimately is to humankind.

A valuable lesson I learned out of my past is this…. Dads (or Moms, as the case may be) are the best “portrait of God” children will ever have. Don’t let them find that picture in someone else or something else. Give kids what they are by nature craving. Be there for them, and show them a little bit of God.