I Promised to Never Be Like My Dad

We all have our struggles in this life. Sometimes it’s easy to recognize the weaknesses of others and not see the good. That’s how I was. Especially when I was young. Especially when it came to my dad. More than once I promised never to be like him.

I grew up with great friends who all had great dads. It seemed to me that the relationships they had with their fathers were a step above the one I had with mine. There were some things my dad did that made me upset – add to that the fact that he was always too tired to shoot hoops, and it made for a bad combination when trying to build a solid relationship with a teenage son.

Police DadMy father, Howard Arkell, second from left.

I remember being very hard on my dad. I can still hear the words from my father ringing in my ears: “I know I’m a horrible father.” He said it on more than one occasion, and it usually stemmed from me complaining about something he did.

Now that I’m a father I look back on his weaknesses a lot differently. In fact, it’s a lot easier to be more understanding. What’s hard to swallow is that the great things he did I’m just starting to notice, and now that he’s gone, I can’t properly give him the credit he’s due.

One night my boys were asking me for a story. So I told them of the day my dad bought me a BRAND NEW pair of basketball sneakers. They were white high tops with black stripes on them and I swear they made me jump two feet higher. They cost $80, which in today’s world would equate to $120. The first night I wore them I took great care to only have them on when I was in the gym. Once the pickup game ended, I changed into some other shoes and walked to the car, placed my new sneaks on the roof of the car, and fiddled with the keys to open the car door. I was basking in the joy of another great performance on the court, with these amazing new sneakers.

As I drove home, imagining the lucrative NBA deal that was sure to be part of my future, I realized I had never taken my sneakers off the roof of the car. I quickly pulled over, jumped out of the car, and my heart sunk as it hit me that my new prized possession, the key to NBA glory, my beautiful, expensive sneakers – were GONE. I drove back to the gym, trying to find them, but in the darkness of the late hour there was no hope. I had lost my sneakers on the very day they were given to me.

As I was telling my boys this story, I remembered something amazing. When I had gone home to tell my dad what happened, I don’t remember his reaction. That’s the fascinating part to me. I know that if he had flown off the handle and gotten angry, I would have remembered. But my only memory is this – the next day after searching for the sneakers on his way to work without any luck, he came home with a newly purchased pair of the same eighty dollar sneakers.

After I finished telling my boys this story, I thought of a moment earlier in the day when I lost my temper and raised my voice at my boy for spilling his milk. I remembered the way I overreacted earlier that week when one of their bikes scraped up against the side of our new van. I thought of all the small and insignificant things that my kids do and how I never seem to be able to let it go without belittling them. It was then I realized that my promise from years earlier was coming true in a much different fashion than I had expected – I realized that I never would be like my dad. The greatest attributes of my father were the ones that, as a child, I could not see.

Dad, wherever you are, and as shallow as this apology and statement is, please know that one day I hope to be the man you were. I’m sure you are looking down with empathy and a smile. Your wings are well deserved. I’m sorry it took me so long to realize it.




  • Pete says:

    The timing that your article came to my attention is uncanny.
    I just buried my dad yesterday. My dad was a very tough, old-world father who ruled the house with an iron fist. We had a falling out years ago and didn’t speak for a couple years. We never fully mended our relationship. For years I resented how tough he was, and swore that would never be anything like him.
    Well… On the 3 hour drive home from the funeral, while my kids slept in the back seat; I turned to my wife, with tears in my eyes, and let loose of all my thoughts and feelings. The truth is, I’m a lot like my father. I have a little more patience than he did, I express my love to my kids a little more openly than he did, and I give them a little more attention than he did with me. When I finished saying all that I needed to say, I smiled. I realized that I am a lot like my dad, and I’m proud of that!

    Thank you for writing your article. It made me feel even better about who I am!

    • bcarkell@gmail.com says:

      Pete, first off, I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. I hope you and your family are able to make it through this hard time. Your experience with your wife reminds me of something similar that happened to me. The first time I ever cried in front of my wife-to-be was when it was apparent that my dad was going to be passing on soon. I’m glad you were able to express some of those things to your wife. I think the goal for every father is that their kids become a little better than they were – and it sounds like your dad would be very proud of the father you have become. More importantly, as we learn from the mistakes of our parents, hopefully that means our children will have a happier upbringing. God bless! Thanks for taking the time to leave such an great comment.

  • Ann says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog, and this post especially hit close to home. Just recently I came across some old home movies I had made of my father-in-law. We took care of him for a long time. And it has been bitter-sweet, since he has been gone for 2 years now. Seeing those movies gave me a glimpse of his life before family, and your post echoes this in a meaningful way. Now that I’m a parent I’ve come to realize that the frailties of parents are only one part of who they are. Thank you for your thoughtful insights.

    • bcarkell@gmail.com says:

      Ann, thanks for checking out the blog. It was nice to hear of your experience – I wish I had old home videos of my dad. That would be NEAT to watch. I often wondered what it would be like to see my dad before our family was even a twinkle in his eye. Thanks for commenting as well and come again! 🙂

  • Kim says:

    He was a great man with humanly faults, but what was never in doubt was the love he had for his family

  • Anonymous says:

    love it!!

  • Sara says:

    Great article! I love you, dad!

  • Evan Arkell says:

    Awesome dad, love you so much!

  • Trista says:

    Love this story. I didn't know you yelled. I've decided if my kids would just do all the things they do that make me lose my temper at someone else's house, they would never remember me yelling. 😀

    • Ben Arkell says:

      I rarely "yell". I 'raise my voice' often. Generally I feel like I'm in control, but then there's the times when I think I'm being very calm and Gina let's me know that I'm not being as calm as I think. Parenting is a tough gig! 🙂

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