Today is arguably one of my least favorite reoccurring days of the year. Maybe tax day comes close, or the day I have my yearly physical (though seeing as how that is a practice I just started last year, I don’t even know if we can count that as reoccurring yet), but really Father’s Day is one of those days that I just don’t feel up to snuff.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have amazing kids, and I love them with all my heart. I would not trade the experience of fatherhood for anything else in the world. I just don’t think I am that great of a dad. I am not the main bread winner for my family, not even close. I am the one that stays home with the kids, gets them up, gets them to school, prepares the meals, supervises the homework, drives them to karate during the school year, etc. I know my wife wishes she could be the one to do these things, but for the past few years, this is the arrangement that seems to work the best.
Being a stay at home dad is not all fun and games though. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of fun or games. Even though I am a creative person, I find that most of my day is spent just trying to get through it and get some sort of work done in the process. Sure, some days there are blanket forts, some days there are movie marathons, or trips to the park. There was even a whole year of attempted home schooling. But most days I am sitting at my desk while my son plays with legos in the other room. My kids are very independent in terms of their toys. They will happily play with each other (till the fights break out), but they don’t really want me to play too.
The real crux of the mater is that I am not a terribly nurturing person. I shout a good bit, I get frustrated easily, and I do expect a lot more maturity and responsibility from my kids than may be typical of their age. I don’t coddle, I don’t allow excuses, and when someone gets hurt (not like bleeding from the face hurt – that one is a prompt trip to the doctor) my first instinct is to ask what they were doing wrong over “Are you ok?”
I do love my kids. I do the best I can by them. I never feel it is good enough though.
This year is particularly challenging. I realized just a few days ago that my daughter is entering the third grade this next year. This means that I am now at the point in my life, where my father decided it was best for him to leave. Now, before this becomes a “Woe as me!” sob story, let me make one thing clear. I do not blame my father (or my mother), I do not resent my parents at all. I understand the actions they took over the years and why, and now as adults I think my Dad and I have a great relationship. He is amazingly supportive of me and my family and he goes to great lengths to try and make connections with my sisters and I and our kids. He is a good man. He never beat us (though there were some well deserved spankings, I am sure, and he did pull my arm out of it’s socket once because I refused to get dressed for school, but those were different times), I don’t ever recall him yelling at us, and he stoically handled plenty of crap we handed him over the years (Like several hundred dollars of University parking tickets, which I still say should never have been paid! But that is another story all together.)
I don’t remember my Dad actually leaving. I don’t remember standing at the door and waving goodbye. I doubt that even happened. I do remember the house we lived in. I do remember that he was gone a lot of the time prior to my parent’s separation anyways. I don’t remember being sat down and told my Dad was moving out, and it would just me my mom and us from now on. I do remember the shouting matches between my parents, I remember things being thrown in the kitchen, the crying of my mother, and us kids sitting at the top of the stairs listening but trying not to be caught doing so. I remember boxes at our new house, and a new dog. The dog did not make up for a missing father. I remember hotel rooms with my Dad, and fast food trips with him for dinner. (And much to his credit, this usually involved 3 or 4 different drive thru lines as all of us wanted something different to eat.) I remember the McDonalds playground on Sunday mornings before he took us back home to Mom.
I remember trips to Troy, AL and Fort Valley, GA in the summer. I remember weeks at a time spent with my Grandparents, and coming up with excuses on why we did not need to go to singing practice at church. I remember playing games – board games, dominos, and an attempt at D&D. (It was my dad & his dad who gave me my love of gaming.) I remember being loaded up with toys at Christmastime and Easter, as if somehow piles of stuff could make up for the fact that he wasn’t around, that he wasn’t really an influence any more over our lives, that love could be bought with shiny gifts.
I remember step mothers. Crazy evil step mothers, just like in the movies. A string of them. Thankfully 15 years ago he met the right woman finally, and is still with her today. They are good together, and he seems happy.
But really, all things considered, my Dad wasn’t a big influence as I was growing up. I did not really respect him then (though I do now as an adult), and I certainly blamed him for a lot of things. My mother remarried twice when I was a kid. She did not make great choices either – but I think those men shaped more of who I would become than my own Dad.
First there was the former pro-golfer. He taught me to play the game. He instilled in me a sense of focus. A drive to get outside, and work with my hands. He taught me the value of walking the course, and never ever using a gold cart. I became good at the game of golf, though I don’t play anymore. I have no desire what so ever to even pick up a club. He also introduced me to a lot of the 1980s comedy classics. Caddyshack, Spies Like Us, Police Academy. He later fell to drugs and became abusive to both me and my mother. It took her a while to realize and acknowledge this, as she was a flight attendant at the time and away a lot for travel. But she did, and he was kicked to the curb. My sisters and I cried then. We did not know how he was going to make it in the world without us there to take care of him.
Next was a army officer and helicopter pilot. There was not a nurturing bone in his body. But I have to give him credit for stepping into a family already made and doing his best (for a while) to make it his own. He was there through my high school years, which could not have been easy on him, but he was always very mellow and even keeled about any explosions of drama. We found out later (once I was in college) that he had some dark secrets and personal issues, and the whole family thing was pretty much a front.
There were also my grandfathers, both of whom were attentive and nurturing in their own ways. My mother’s dad was an air-force bomber pilot and a great man. He was devoted to his wife (my grandmother), and dedicated to his grand-kids. We lived with him for a summer, in the attic he converted into two bedrooms and a bathroom just so we would have a good home to be in. My fathers dad was funny, loved games, and took me fishing many many times. He even showed me how to skin and prepare a fish. Which meant that I never wanted to go fishing again. I can still see that fish flopping on the nail as his scales were peeled off, it was very traumatic. He was a good man too, my grandfather, not the fish – this isn’t one of those talking magic animal tales – and he always kind to absolutely everyone he met.
There were other men who became like father figures for a time. Mr. Elder down the street who taught me about computers. The doctor next door that gave me an electronic drum set and encouraged me to learn to play in exchange for mowing his jungle of a yard. But these were fleeting connections as we moved away, moved on.
I guess maybe that is why I don’t ever feel like that great of a father. I only ever saw “great” dads at their best, an idealized version of what it was like to be a dad who was happy and involved with his kids. Even now, as I think about the awesome fathers I know who I admire and strive to emulate: Marc, Shane, Travis S. & Ray, I realize that I don’t see the days when they reach a breaking point and kids are sent to their rooms. I don’t see the day to day struggles that ever modern father must face to be a provider, a nurturer, and a strong enough influence to raise good kids in an increasingly messed up society. I just seem them at their happy moments. Their together moments. Those moments that I don’t recall all that often from my own childhood, and so I think, “There! That is a good dad. Why can’t I be like that?”
And really, I guess maybe I am. I cheer my daughter on at her karate. I tell her that I am proud of her, and push her to go further. I take her into a weekend of faeries, and sit down beside her when I find her crying on the steps of the cabin because some other kids are being mean. I help my son make “books” and encourage his fledgling efforts to read. I tromp upstairs multiple times a day, because he is scared to be up there alone, and the dog won’t follow him while he gets the toy or book he needs.
Today, on Father’s Day, as I am away from my family at a convention that really isn’t going that great, I woke up in a funk. I thought about writing about how crappy this day was for me (and I guess in a way I did that). But I did not realize where I would end, with a realization about good fathers in general. I am not an alcoholic. I am not a druggie. I am not an unfeeling stone. I don’t hit my kids. I don’t neglect my kids. I may not be the most nurturing Dad, but I am there for them. Every single day. And maybe that is what matters most of all.
So to all the Dads who are there, I salute you. To all the Dads that aren’t there maybe as much as they should be, but really wish they could be and make that effort to do right by their kids, I salute you too! To all the dads who walked away, and never looked back, I hope you one day reconnect and have at least a decent relationship with your kids, even if it isn’t as good as the one I now have with my Dad.
Maybe this fatherhood stuff isn’t so hard after all. Maybe nobody is the “World’s Greatest Dad!” Maybe we all have our good days and our bad. Maybe the secret is just to listen, to be there, and make sure your kids know that you love them, are proud of them, and that you have got their back.
Oh, and not to drop them on their heads. That one is important too. Though hey, my kids seems to be turning out just fine, and they have fallen more than once.