First-Time Dads: Learning From Your Father’s Mistakes

By the time actor Michael Douglas married Diandra Luker in 1977, the son of  screen legend Kirk Douglas was already a TV star. The dashing couple gave birth to a son, Cameron, just one year later.

Michael’s career really took off in 1984 when he starred in the hit movie Romancing the Stone. Douglas was already famous, but now he was rich and in demand. He soon found himself on the road and on the set far more than at home. Although he didn’t divorce Diandra until 2000, the two basically lived separate lives, and their son, Cameron, was raised in a single-parent home. Michael struggled with alcohol and drugs and entered rehab in 1992.

Not every child from a single-parent home abuses drugs and alcohol, but Michael’s son Cameron did – and he found himself in and out of rehabilitation programs starting at age 13.

I’m sure Cameron Douglas didn’t think he’d have the same problems as his dad. Cameron was raised with nearly every advantage imaginable: a great house, excellent education, exciting travel and every toy and gadget he wanted. What he was missing was something money can’t buy – a full-time father. When Cameron was on trial for illegal drug use, the elder Douglas said his family’s fame and history of substance abuse helped drive his son into drug addiction and crime.

But Judge Richard Berman discounted such reasons and pronounced a stern judgment. "Get beyond and get over that idea … that Cameron Douglas is a victim," Berman said.

Victim of circumstances, of his own poor choices – or is Cameron Douglas a tragic example of what happens when a father fails to model life skills and pass along values to live by?

Yearning for Dad

Many men struggle to break free of a hard life. For Cameron Douglas, a combination of an absent father, a family history of drugs and alcohol, and a series of bad choices left him with a prison sentence and plenty of time to evaluate his life. If one day he marries and has children, Cameron will have to break the chain of difficulty that has wrapped itself around his life. He will need to figure out a way to deal with his past and face the present in a healthier way – for his sake and that of his kids.

Many individuals can identify with at least some of the fractured Douglas heritage. We may have had a hard-driving dad who expected a lot from us. Perhaps our father was not around much and did not connect emotionally with his children.  We tend to approach parenting as we experienced it. As we grow up, we assemble a collection of tools, and when we have children of our own, we reach into that toolbox and use those tools  with our children. That’s a truth we need to consider.

Whether we grew up with a loving father or not, every parent is human. Despite good intentions, all men make mistakes that affect their kids. Every one of us takes baggage into our adult lives. These affect our parenting, so it is wise to consider what we’ve learned from our dad, and how it may influence our own fathering.