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10/29/2012 12:50 pm ET Updated Dec 28, 2012

What Is the Best Thing Your Father Ever Taught You?

This question originally appeared on Quora.
2012-09-02-jkdavis.jpeg
By Jon Davis, Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps

Perhaps the best thing my father ever taught me is that there are times when you will only make the problem worse with your continued presence.

When I was very young, my father abandoned us, my mother and me. It took me many years to stop hating him for that, but then I understood why, and I respect him and pity him for that choice.

What you need to know about my father is that he was always a scarred individual. When I knew him, he was angry and an alcoholic. I don't remember him ever hugging me or saying that he loved me. My mom married him when I was six because she felt that a boy needed his dad around. I think that she also believed then that just loving a man could change him. A few months later, he couldn't accept living with us or maybe it was fighting with my mom or maybe it was disappointment in his sweet and soft son. He became mad and left one day with the family vehicle, and I never saw him again. I was seven then, and my mother got a divorce.

When I was eleven, his alcoholism finally took him. He died of cirrhosis of the liver. I was informed by Social Security when my mom received a letter stating the fact. We weren't invited to the funeral, either.

I spent most of my childhood completely hating my father for abandoning me and not seeking any part in my life, even as he knew he was dying. I was very angry and resentful. I grew up naturally rebellious towards men in authority. I started to place unrealistic standards for most men in my life, and if they didn't pass the test, I gave them no respect. A few did, though, and had extremely important roles in filling the void in my life. None of them are a replacement, though. I was also desperate for approval from those around me. I tried to the point of obsession getting good results and being the best. I had to be the best in class and in all the other things I did. I trained for hours as a child to win in my martial arts tournaments, and I worked to the point where I was a sophomore who started on the high school football team. If there was an easy way, I had to do it hard. I wanted acknowledgement and respect, I believe because I was abandoned as a child.

I stayed very angry when I thought about my father, or really anyone lucky enough to have one. One day when I was sixten, my mother and I went for a drive around the lake. I don't really think that she had any plan to have some deep talk, just to spend time with me and perhaps to take advantage of teachable moments that may arise. We talked a lot that night, and eventually the conversation made its way to my father. I said that I hated him. I said that I know it makes no sense to hate someone after they were dead, but I did.

"Jon. There are some things you need to know..."

She told me then that my father was a man who couldn't love. When he was a child, he wasn't so fortunate as me. His father was around. His father was an alcoholic like mine, but he beat my father and his brothers and my grandmother and from what mom was alluding to, more as well. To be funny, he would get my dad drunk when he was a child, and caused his alcoholism before he was fourteen. Among my uncles, I think that my dad probably turned out alright by comparison. I believe two went to prison, and one was murdered in a drug deal gone wrong or criminal assassination of some sort. After a screwed up childhood, my father joined the military, during Vietnam. He was a green beret, but I don't know if he was ever deployed there. From my time in the service, I know that it can greatly improve a man, but in the case of my dad, I am afraid that the service and care for your country was likely lost. The military's philosophies and training might only have fed violent and hurtful tendencies towards others. He told my mom often that he couldn't love. He couldn't love her or me or anyone. By the time I came around, he was probably just a very broken man who my mom was unfortunate enough to love.

Learning all this was one of the life changing moments in a person's life. I had lived my whole life hating my father, and now to see another side... A part he couldn't change and that he wasn't responsible for. He was born into a world he couldn't control, with people who didn't protect him or nurture him or try to make him a good man. He was broken before he could have a chance to be good. I really don't know if mom knew how important that night was to me, but it was perhaps the most important moment in life where my relationship with my father was concerned.

From here, I went on for a few years. Every now and then, I would have a quiet moment and my father would come up in my thoughts.

Eventually, I realized I didn't hate the man any more. I pitied him. How could you hate someone like that? Living the existence he did was punishment enough, let alone being eternally resented by your offspring. And once I made that realization, I looked at my life. I am kind and fair. I try to do good things and help others. I value intelligence and morality. I am a good husband who loves his wife very much. My family is proud of the things I do and how I treat them. I look forward very much to having children and teaching them the things that make people good. I want my sons to be good men and my daughters to know what type of men to look for.

This couldn't have happened if my father had been an active part of my life. I wonder if he knew that. I like to think that he always avoided me for that reason, but in any case I am thankful that he wasn't there. It made me a better man.

That isn't to say that I think boys should be raised without fathers. It is a horrible way to grow up. No one was there to teach me how to catch a ball or how to shave or fix the car or the thousands of things boys need to learn to be men. I had to figure out most of it on my own. Well, there was one person...

What my father taught me are invaluable lessons, though he wasn't really there.

  • Because of him, I learned to work hard so that others would recognize me.
  • I strove to be a good man, masculine, yet valuing wisdom and fairness.
  • I wanted to be a good husband, and one day I want to be a good father who teaches and nurtures his children.
  • Sometimes, it is best to not be the solution to the problem, but to just back off.
  • Because of him, I learned that every person's life has value.

Like I said, this isn't intended as advice to men that leaving your families will be good for them. They still need you. Millions of kids are raised to adulthood without good fathers. Many are not good adults, they lacked good male role models and they lacked value in them. They didn't know what it meant to be good and never really got the chance that many like me did. For those of you who have also written on this post, you are very fortunate. Fathers like yours are extremely important, and the answers I have seen make me very envious and have given me things that I one day hope to give to my kids as well.

I did mention that there was someone, though, who filled in the gaps as best as could be expected. I live by a testament that anyone can be a father, but it takes a real man to be a dad. Sometimes, though, the best dads...

...are really great moms.

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