We all have issues. We know that. Our goal as fathers, as we’ve said, is to not pass them on. To stop the cycle of dysfunction. It’s a low bar, to be sure, but it’s an important one: Don’t let the demons you wrestle with find softer targets in your children.
But even more than that, don’t let your demons invite new ones to the party. As best we can, we must not inflict more damage or create more issues. This Philip Larkin poem expresses this tendency so perfectly:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
The Buddhists spoke of samsara, the way that suffering transfers from generation to generation. Why is that? Why is it that suffering rarely ever fully discharges from a generation, leaving the next one free to flourish unhindered? It’s because we don’t do the work. It’s because sometimes we are not even aware of our own suffering. And when we are, and we still don’t do the work, it’s often because we tell ourselves we’re helpless.
Look, we are going to screw up. It’s inevitable. We are imperfect people so it’s impossible that we’ll raise perfect kids. Still, that doesn’t mean we’re helpless against the demons knocking at our door. We can work on ourselves. We can go to therapy so maybe they won’t have to. We can try to be healthy so they’ll grow up thinking that’s normal. We can try to move on from our own anger and frustration and pain so at the very least, they do not inherit our burdens.
And of course, we can do our best to be smart, to read, to take this job seriously, so we’re not inviting in new demons to boot.