I finally had time to read this thread and think about it. My initial reaction to this was that I won't have anything to say (because I probably suck as a dad) but I'll read it to get some good pointers on how to improve. There are some cool stories here and lots of good things I could emulate. While I have felt worthless for much of my kids lives I need to give myself a break as I was doing the best that I could while still in denial about how my abuse was affecting me.
I don't have much to say about my real father (passed away) or my step father (who abused me). Everything about them is in my story. I learned nothing from them about how to be a dad or a man. After the abuse stopped I know my step tried very hard to be my father during all those years of me acting normal. He was clearly trying to make up for what he'd done to me, but I just can't be around him anymore.
How did I break the cycle? With all my kids I definitely made a point of making connections throughout their younger years. I would hold them, hug them and tell them I loved them. Not just say it, but make sure they could see it in my face as I looked at them. Unfortunately, when they got older at about the same age as when I was abused (13) I pulled away from them physically and emotionally. I'm still not quite sure why...maybe I couldn't relate to them anymore because I never was a child again after that age? Now that I've told 3 of them about the abuse it's been easier to make those connections with them again and to tell them I love them.
Not being able to tell my older kids I love them was a strong motivator to go get help.
All my kids play quite a bit of sports. I wanted to as a kid, but with 0 confidence and enough pain living at home I never played. It's very hard for me to do any sports related stuff with them or try and teach them anything without those experiences of my own, but I do take them to MANY, MANY practices and games so that they can have the opportunities I didn't have.
I know I must be doing something right as my two oldest (19 and 16) both come have heart to hearts with me about fairly serious stuff on a semi-regular basis. No prodding from me and completely on their own when they have questions. My T says that the most complicated relationship in western culture is that between a mother and daughter. I'm here to say that that is an understatement to what I have observer. Maybe that's why they come talk to me :-) In any event knowing that they trust me to discuss these things with me is very cool.
Could I have done better, without a doubt. I have lots of regrets about how emotionally detached I've been till just this last year, but I think I did break the cycle. I'm going to keep trying to break it and continue to be a better dad for them now and in the future.
With 4 daughters I also look forward to some son in laws and grandsons hopefully.