In his Broadway show, Bruce Springsteen—whose songs have often focused on the painful legacy of our parents—explained the choice that all of us have as fathers. “We are ghosts or we are ancestors in our children’s lives,” he said at the beginning of “Long Time Comin’.” “We either lay our mistakes, our burdens upon them, and we haunt them, or we assist them in laying those old burdens down, and we free them from the chain of our own flawed behavior. And as ancestors, we walk alongside of them, and we assist them in finding their own way, and some transcendence.”
Will you be a ghost or an ancestor to your children? Will you haunt them or guide them? Will you inspire them or curse them?
Of course we all know which one those things we want to be. The struggle is in rising above our own demons, our own issues, the ghost of our own parents.
But that’s why we do this work. That’s why we go to therapy and read books. Why we stay up at night before bed talking to our spouse about how hard this parenting thing is. It’s why we ask our kids—How are you doing? Do you need anything? Can I get you anything? It’s why, wordlessly, when we hold them, we promise to ourselves to do better, to try harder, to not repeat the mistakes we saw growing up.
This isn’t going to be easy. We’re not going to be perfect. But we’re going to keep trying.
We’re going to be an ancestor. Someone who guides them. We’re not going to be a ghost.