On the day David's son turned twenty-two, David was uneasy and distracted. You see, he was twenty-two when his own father died. Now all those emotions were coming back, along with a sense that he was in uncharted waters. He later told me, "I suddenly realized that I no longer knew how to father. I didn't have a model for fathering a 22-year-old son."
It's a common reaction. When our children reach the same age we were during significant events in our lives, often the memories and emotions coming flooding back in. When they get their driver's license, you recall getting yours. When they graduate, you can almost feel your own cap and gown from 25 years ago. This phenomenon seems especially apparent when linked with father-son memories.
Maybe your dad helped you with your pitching motion when you were twelve, or spent hours working with you on a seventh grade science project. As your child faces similar challenges at a similar age, use your father's example to inspire you.
But, we also need to be ready for the dark memories. If your father left your family when he was forty-two, watch out when you reach that age. Be careful not to use your father as an excuse to take the easy way out of your commitments.
So what do we do with all these feelings? If your father was a positive influence, use your memories to honor him. Share your memories over the phone, in a letter, or in person and tell him, "Thanks."
If your father caused you mostly pain, then be ready to face the facts head-on; claim ownership of how you feel, and don't deny his profound impact on you.
Better yet, use your father's shortcomings to motivate yourself as a father. If you missed some hugs or never heard the words "I love you," don't make your children pay for your deficit. Make a firm commitment that says, "It stops here. I refuse to pass these cycles on to my children."
Seek regularly to give your children memorable milestones that they'll look back on with fondness and joy—and then share with their own children.