I had a dad once.

My father was a vastly intelligent and well-read man.  Our home was filled with bookcases of magical, wonderful knowledge, from Sumerian history to the Count of Monte Cristo, our bookcases glistened with fascination.  My father also played chess.

He was very good at chess.  He taught me to play when I was five.  He taught me how all the pieces moved, and we went through some practice games to get me familiar with all the rules and stuff.  And then we played my first game of chess.  He beat me in four moves.  Seriously.  There is a way to win in four moves and my dad did it to me my first game.  He then taught me how to do it.  Then we played our second game.

Well, he didn’t beat me in four moves in the second game, I made sure of that.  It was at least eight.  Game after game, my dad, an extremely good chess player, would annihilate his five-year old son… game after game. 

Then he took me aside, and explained in his wonderful big-bear gentleness,

“I beat you pretty bad there, didn’t I?”  uh-huh. 

“Do you know why I did that?”  un-unh. 

“I wanted to teach you something.  Something very important.”  Well now he had my interest.

“We learn more by losing than by winning.  Each one of those games we played, look how you became better with each one.  I didn’t become better.  I’m no better at chess now than when we started.  Because I won all those games.  You became much-much better, because you lost those games.”

Wow.  What a wonderful life lesson that is.  Over the course of our games together, I got better, and we used to have pretty good games.  He was devastating using his Knight in forks; I learned Knight forks pretty darn good.  I’m devastating in Knight forks, wanna play chess?  I enjoyed those games of chess with my dad.  I actually beat him once… maybe… (he might have let me have one, I’m not sure).

But you know what’s even more important and valuable than the life lesson my father taught me that day?  That here I am an old man, and I still carry that lesson taught to a five-year-old boy by his dad so many years ago.  All these many years later, my father still lives in me.

Don’t tell me a dad is not important to a child.

mother-son; father-son; mother-daughter; father-daughter

I remember my son was about 12 at the time.  I made him move bricks, a pile of bricks, from one side of the back yard to the other.  About 100 of them.  I paid him 10 cents a brick.  He liked that.  Ten bricks for $1.00 – $10.00.  He was okay with that.  For a 12 year-old, ten bucks is pretty nice coin to have.

When he finished moving the bricks, I had him sit at the patio table and do ten math problems.  They were all well within his wheel-house, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division.  I paid him $1.00 for each math problem he completed, so he earned $10.00.  Wow!  He was kind of excited, earning $20.00.

Then I said, “Do you know why I did that?”  He shook his head no.  “I wanted to teach you something.  In the world, you get paid for what you do, or you get paid for what you know.  You get paid more for what you know, than what you do.  That’s what school is about, learning the stuff to get paid for what you know.   Moving bricks is honest and honorable work.  It will be your choice.”

My son graduated from The George Washington University in Washington, DC a couple years ago with a degree in foreign relations.  The commencement ceremony was on the national mall under the Washington Monument, kid you not.  I have the pictures.  Senator Cory Booker was the speaker.  My son was lucky, he landed a pretty good job with a consulting firm in Washington, right out of college.  He’s an impressive guy.

mother-daughter; father-daughter; mother-son; father-son

Attachment Bonding Rejection

You come to me as a clinical psychologist and tell me that a father hasn’t seen his son in years.  The father says he just wants to spend time with his son.  He just wants to love his son.

“Why isn’t that happening?” I ask.

The son doesn’t want to spend time with his father, is the reply.

I remember my games of chess with my dad.  I remember that one time my dad took me to work with him, I was about 10.  Some sort of have your kid at work day.  He was a boss type person, so everybody was doing what he told them.  That was interesting.  He was my dad.  He was a big cuddly teddy bear (with huffy puffy if you did something bad, like the time I got caught for throwing rocks at another kid.  Yeah, my dad got huffy puffy bear on that one).  It was interesting for a 10 year old boy to see his father being a boss person at work.

A child doesn’t want to spend time with his dad?  I remember being a child.  That’s nonsense. 

“Is the dad doing anything bad?” I ask.

The father got a little huffy puffy once.  “Bad huffy puffy?” I ask.  No, I’m told.  Just a normal huffy puffy parent.

“Why did the dad get huffy puffy?” I ask.

Because the child was rude and defiant, I’m told.  Oh my goodness, if I had been rude and defiant with my dad he would have been very huffy puffy, not bad huffy puffy, but not a huffy puffy a kid would want to see.  Defiance and rude?  All parents get huffy puffy on that, because it’s not okay for the child to be defiant and rude.

“And is that it?” I ask.  Yes, I’m told.

And I remember my dad.  I remember where my love of chess comes from.  I remember my dad’s big cuddly-bear hugs, rolling with him on the living room floor in rough-house play, and I remember his laugh.  His laugh was the best thing of all for me to hear.  He smiled a lot, but not laugh.  His laugh was the best to hear.

We have to restore the father-son bond immediately I say.  Because that father-son bond is simply too important to the boy.  I know.  I was a child once.  I had a father.  I know.

Don’t tell me a father is not important. 

father-son; mother-son; father-daughter; mother-daughter

I have a daughter too.  Shall I tell you about her?  She’s magnificent.  I’m so proud of who she is.  She is the absolute glow in my eye.

You know what’s really wonderful about being a dad.  My wife is into visual-design crafting, she’s got an excellent artistic eye.  My daughter, when she’s home from college, will often join my wife in her crafting room, and I’ll hear them chattering their woman stuff.  Hearing that makes me glow as a dad.  Sometimes they go to tea at some tea place (I don’t go, are you kidding me?  Tea?  That’s a mother-daughter thing).  Apparently there’s some fancy tea place they go to, hoity-toity oooo.


I once took my, about 10 year-old daughter on a business trip to New York with me. I was doing a conference presentation with my professional colleagues, can’t remember what it was about.  Standard professional conference nonsense.  So I decided to bring my daughter with me, just dad and his princess on the town in New York city.  Of course we did Broadway and the Statue of Liberty.  My daughter left her purse with her phone in it on the subway.  Oh no!  (her purse also had her retainer in it… mom’s not going to be happy about losing that.  Mom’s going to get pretty huffy puffy).

But you know what?  Mom had put a label on my daughter’s phone with my wife’s phone number.  The person who found the phone in New York city called my wife in L.A. and my wife coordinated our meeting this person just outside Yankee Stadium and we got my daughter’s phone and retainer back.  Yay mom.  Mom took care us from all the way across the country.

Don’t tell me a mother is not important to a child.

father-daughter; mother-daughter; father-son; mother-son 

Do you know one of my wife’s favorite stories is about the time she got so irritated with my son for being a butthead that she told him to “Get outside!” and she threw him outside in the back yard and locked the door.  Do you know what my son did?  My son just walked around to the front door and walked in the house.  My wife turned around and looked at him, realizing she didn’t lock the front door, and how he simply ignored her huffy puffy because he knew it was just huffy puffy because he was being a butthead.  And they both started laughing. 

Don’t tell me a child doesn’t need a mother.

I was a child once.  I remember how wonderful it is to be loved by my mother, to be loved by my father.

Don’t tell me a child doesn’t need their mother’s love, the love of their father.  I was a child once.  So were you.  I know what a mother’s love means, I know what a father’s love means.  Do you?

So I say to the people who come to me as a clinical psychologist, we need to fix the mother-son; father-son; mother-daughter; father-daughter as fast as we possibly can.  It’s too important.  A child can’t lose the love of a mother, the love of a father.  That’s too important.

Let’s fix things as fast as we can, and let’s bring as many smiles, and hugs, and stories, and huffy puffy as we can to the child… because that’s wonderful for the child.  I was a child once.  I remember.

My dad died in 1985.  I still miss his big cuddly bear hugs.  For about ten years after his death, he’d come to me sometimes in my dreams at night, just to give me one of his big cuddly bear hugs.  I remember once, becoming very sad when I woke up and realized that the big cuddly bear hug I was just having with my dad… it was only a dream.  Thanks dad.  I love you too.

Don’t tell me a dad isn’t important to a child.  I know better.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

One thought on “I had a dad once.”

  1. very sweet remembrances. thanks for sharing. i’ve been laughing since my mom died-just remembering her. alienated kids will lose their parents and feel a lot of guilt. my kids are already feeling guilt and i’m not dead yet! i’d like to be remembered in their laughter.
    i really didn’t get your brick/math lesson. whatever happened to ‘work smarter not harder’? that’s where i thought you were taking it.

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