That’s me up there. With my five kids. Smiles on every one of those faces. Is that a typical occurrence every day? No, not so much. But I live for days just like that one. I become a kid all over again, a kid reveling in the joy of the ultimate responsibility — the care and welfare of adolescent human beings. It’s one of many pictures that tell my story of fatherhood.
This is where my Story of Fatherhood began.
With these two. On a military base in Colorado.
It continued somewhere in Viet Nam shortly after I was born. As is the case with many marriages interrupted by soldiers marching off to a war, my parent’s marriage would become contaminated with the after effects of soul extinguishing experiences many of us will never endure. And after he returned home, the first chapter of my story of fatherhood concluded… minus one father.
But if there was one moment that was the catalyst to the things I hold as important in being a father today, it’s the moment I realized my father was missing from my life.
Sounds funny, I know:
“how did you not know your dad wasn’t around??”
My mom worked hard to make a pretty normal life for me and it just wasn’t something that occurred to me until I was old enough to realize my friends with their dads and that something was missing from our family…
From then on, every birthday and holiday that passed that I didn’t receive a visit, a phone call, or even a card, wrote another chapter in my fatherhood story. I wouldn’t think about it EVERY holiday or EVERY birthday, but from time to time, I would wonder… How could someone just forget about their kid?
They’re a part of you. They ARE love. There are people that are denied the right to see their kids, why would someone choose to be absent. Of course everyone has different circumstances, my father included. Unfortunately his will always be a mystery to me. It was just something I never talked to my mom much about. Maybe I was afraid it would just bring up bad memories. Maybe I just didn’t want to hear the concrete realities about why my dad disappeared.
He died around the time I was 8 years old, something I didn’t discover til I was an adult.
Growing up without a dad, you are often forced to improvise, absorb other’s experiences. At best, you will manage to make your way through to adulthood learning from a variety of role models. At worst, you can lose your way as a result of not having the guidance of a father to show you what it means to be a man.
I’ve heard from many friends who have had struggles with relationships with fathers who come and go from their lives; strained relationships, failed reconciliations, disastrous one time meetings; Situations where an ideal is built up and ultimately shattered by the reality of whom their dad turns out to actually be. So there are many times where I am almost grateful that, by my father being gone for good, I never had to go through any of that.
I may have missed out on a few things. Things you’d typically grow up doing with your father, and things you typically would expect a son to learn, mainly from their father. Like…
When you don’t have a dad around, sometimes a friend teaches you how to tie a tie. Sometimes they teach you in a bathroom at a casino in Reno, NV.
Learning how to tie a tie is a pretty benign thing to attach to fatherhood. But it’s those small things that shape your fatherhood story. Whether it’s the things you miss about not having a father, the things you remember about your dad that motivate you or the little things he did that inspired you, those things are the signposts in your journey through fatherhood.
I’ve never found the time to let the things I may have missed out on make me bitter. I learned a lot “on the job”. I emulated my mom and her ways of parenting. A combination of many experiences has brought me where I needed to be today.
I’ve taught my oldest daughter how to throw a spiral and shared with her a love of design and creativity. I’ve sat on the sidelines as a father who knows a lot about football, but nothing about gymnastics or ballet. I fervently support and cheer on my youngest daughter in her interests nonetheless. I’ve helped to raise three boys that are not my own (which is another awkward yet ultimately rewarding journey in itself).
And I know that when my son needs to learn how to tie a tie, I will be there to teach him and to help him. We’ll write the first chapter of his Story of Fatherhood together.
And I’ll continue writing the best chapters in My Story of Fatherhood.