ON FATHERING: Nurturing the Gain from Pain
It all started for me in the Lincoln, Nebraska State Orphanage where I was deposited by a seventeen year old unwed mother who surrendered to the pressures not to keep me. The ( my ) biological father was a state champion level high jumper who was drafted into the Army and never knew his girlfriend was with child. He never recovered from the trauma of his mama’s murder at the hands of an irate suitor, never married and lived a wasted life battling alcohol and heroin Joneses.
The greatest blessing of my life was visited upon me being adopted out of that orphanage by Bernice and Howard Settles, who took me back to Muncie, Indiana to grow up. Daddy was ex-jock who cultivated a lifestyle of womanizing and macho prerogative, a factory laborer lost in the fantasy of becoming a liquor store owner. Mama sought to live the solid Christian existence pursuing the upward mobility dreams of educated Black Americans emerging from the suffering of the Civil Rights struggle. She held onto a conviction that anyone who put a glass of whiskey to their lips was doomed to a life of rakish and irresponsible behavior. How two totally opposite souls could have forged a marriage was one of many great mysteries. Their marriage finally cracked under the weight of Daddy’s infidelity and they divorced when I was eight but not before a baby sister had been adopted out of my same Nebraska orphanage.
Mama had a tough time of it after Daddy left home until she got that good job as a librarian at the Muncie Public Library. Through all her struggles to raise us, Daddy never paid child support. Rather than send him to penitentiary, we let him off the hook, all the time my sister and me wondering how he could deny his children the love of financial support. My love for sports ushered in a bond with Daddy that was dependent on my forgiveness of his abuse of Mama and financial neglect. He never understood who I was, suggesting it was foolish to become an Air Force pilot when there was lots of money to be made lawyering for the small time dope dealers in Indiana. His most profound counsel to me about getting trapped in a teen pregnancy: “If you goin’ to be screwing these broads, use a rubber.” I think I was looking for a bit loftier moral guidance. Inspired by Daddy’s poor example of Fatherhood, I vowed to myself that I was going to be somebodies’ Daddy when I grew up and try to do it right.
My aviation career was not what I had in mind but I survived two hundred missions flying jet fighters in Vietnam and spent most of my adult life as an airline pilot raising two sons, the greatest joy of this journey. I loved being a Father and I made a lot of mistakes but I wanted to raise strong, independent sons who would not crack under the first strains of life, sons who would be unstoppable. I could never have known I would spend most of my fatherhood raising my sons as a single parent father after their mother and I lost our conjugal way. I wasn’t “The Great Santini” but what follows are some of the philosophies that guided my parenting mission:
1. Be honest and tell the truth. Stand for Integrity
2. Know that there are consequences for actions; make sure you are okay with the cost.
3. You get lunch money allowance, food, clothing and a roof over your head. If you want the fancy stuff, you do extra chores or neighborhood work to earn extra money for the designer items.
4. You have responsibilities around the house, ie rooms get cleaned up, floors get mopped and vacuumed, dishes get done and you will learn to cook a few easy meals for yourself.
5. You will learn how to wash and dry clothes in the machines and fold them up.
6. Don’t spend all the money you make; learn to have a savings for special needs in the future.
7. When they were small, I was slow to pick them up when they fell down, or not at all if I knew they were okay, ingraining in them to pick themselves up and move on.
8. Stand for possibility and understand that courage, commitment and great effort are required for success in life. The Life that Is Loved requires work and dedication. Dreams don’t always come true but you still work for them as if it is so.
9. Accept others for how they present themselves, being careful to remember things aren’t always what they seem.
10. Never be abusive to women; learn to be understanding and tolerant.
11. Be leery of the appearance of a free lunch. Don’t seek one.
12. Understand that your Daddy isn’t perfect; forgive the flaws in his behavior and don’t repeat them when it’s your turn.
Today, I have four grandchildren and two sons busy at the process of marriage, being devoted husbands and fathers. This is the greatest reward for my endeavor at being a good father, through a vision that was fueled by the absence and disappointment with my father. From the pain comes the gain. Happy Father’s Day to those out there who deserve it.
Retired airline Captain Brian Settles is a Mercer University Adjunct faculty member and author of the page turner memoire, No Reason for Dying: A Reluctant Combat Pilot's Confession of Hyporcrisy, Infidelity and War. www.NoReasonforDying.com