Finley: Seeing my son as a father

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
Marshall Finley with his daughters

My father showed up to just one of my high school basketball games. And when he walked into the gym, my stomach knotted.

The only reason I could think of that my dad would have time to be at the school in the late afternoon was that he’d been laid off. That triggered the usual panic over another stretch of hard times ahead for my family.

Turned out he’d gotten off early and just wanted to see a game. But my reaction said a lot about his approach to fatherhood.

He was not a nurturer. He was a provider. Typical of men of his era, he saw his patriarchal duty as making sure the family was financially supported. That wasn’t easy. The wolf was always at our door, and keeping it at bay took every drop of sweat he had, and nearly every hour of his day. And an open account at the local payday lending office.

If a kid needed some sugar, that was my mom’s job.

My own parenting style was drawn perhaps too much from his. Though my financial circumstances were better — thanks to my parents' sacrifice — the reality that three children were dependent on me for their well-being weighed heavily.

I worked too much in their formative years, missed too many moments. Didn’t take enough time to enjoy being a dad.

Now, my son is a father. And I’m happy to say if there was a generational curse, he’s broken it.

The first time he walked into the house with a bulging diaper bag slung over his shoulder, I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. I rarely diapered a baby; my first daughter was nearly potty trained before I figured out how a Pampers worked.

He shares the load of child rearing fully with his wife, knows how to mix formula, is on a first-name basis with the pediatrician and is every bit as good at cuddling and soothing as any mother on the block.

He’s aware of and involved in all aspects of his girls’ lives. By contrast, I woke up one morning and had to ask why my daughter had a cast on her leg — or was it her arm? — having slept through her middle-of-the-night trip to the emergency room.

It was a different world then. It’s a better world now. For fathers, anyway.

These much-maligned millennials have mastered the art of balance. My son has a successful career, and a successful family, and he enjoys both.

Perhaps it’s necessity. Most mothers are now in the workplace and won’t tolerate slacker mates. It takes all hands, all the time, to get the kids where they need to go, help with what seems a ridiculous amount of homework, and assure they’re properly loved up.

But watching his interactions with his girls, and the way they worship him, makes me think he’s got a lot better deal than his father and grandfather had.

Marshall is a good man, and a good father. And although I can’t take credit for either of those qualities, I’m still darn proud of him on this Father’s Day. 

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.