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Woster: Learning ‘Father Knows Best’ way is a daunting task

Growing up, it never occurred to me to wonder if my dad ever struggled to be a good father.

It never crossed my mind that the big old farmer with the massive forearms and faded, striped overalls ever might have had his doubts about the way he was raising the three boys and two girls he and his bride brought into the world. He sometimes could be soft-spoken, almost shy, when he talked one-on-one about baseball or books or articles from “Look” magazine, but he never seemed to lack confidence in his decisions.

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The children of Henry and Marie Woster, generally decent and nearly respectable adults, didn’t grow up without causing our parents a few worries and frustrations. We were pretty normal kids, mostly good but with the same lapses of judgment and moments of temporary insanity that all kids experience at one time or another. We had to have been, well, a little bit testing at times. Never saw that in my dad.

It was only much later, after Nancy and I had our first child, that I began to understand he might have been putting up a brave front. He must have been terrified once in a while. He had to have felt clueless sometimes, wondering about the best way, the “Father Knows Best” way, to handle his sons and daughters. In many ways, I am my father’s son, and I know I was terrified more often than any macho dude of a dad should admit. I had no idea what I was doing, and many a time I was convinced I had no business being involved in raising a family.

Being a father is a heck of an important task to be handled through a system that largely involves nothing more than on-the-job training. It’s one thing to give a guy a pitchfork and tell him to go stack some alfalfa. That’s a reasonable task to expect someone to pick up on the job. Becoming a dad with only nine months notice (and that not devoted to an intense study of parenting) is more like giving a guy an F-15 fighter jet and telling him to land it on an aircraft carrier on a pitching sea. It’s daunting, is what it is, trying to be a dad.

Don’t get me wrong. Our three kids are great. They are incredibly sensitive adults, fun to be around and wonderful to call family. They were great as youngsters, too. They caused some heartache, some worry, some frustration and anger. Sure they did. That’s what kids do. And when you figure out (sometimes) how to respond to the eldest of the children in a certain situation, you think you have things well in hand. Then you run into a similar issue with the next one and what you thought was the perfect response? It doesn’t work at all on that one.

I’m reflecting on my experiences with my dad and with my own children today because it’s nearly Father’s Day. My dad has been gone forever, almost 46 years, but I still miss him often. The sense of loss has faded over time, maybe, but on Father’s Day I always experience a desire to see him once more. I’d take just an afternoon, a few minutes, just enough time to talk a bit about crops and cane fishing poles and Chevrolet pickups and, sure kids. I’d dearly love to know what he thinks of the kids.

I’d dearly love to tell him what I think of the kids, because they are the other reason I turn reflective on this weekend each June. In spite of my lack of confidence and complete absence of knowledge or prior experience, we raised three fine children. If asked, each of the kids would say their mother has been the constant in their lives. If asked, I’d say that, too. The best thing I might have done to be a good dad to these three kids was marry the woman who would become their mom.

It might not be Jim Anderson stuff from the old television series, but it’s worth celebrating this weekend. So are my kids. They make me look like a pretty good dad.

Woster is a retired journalist from Pierre, S.D., who now works for the South Dakota Department of Public Safety.