My Fatherhood: From last words to no excuses
“There is nothing keeping me here…”
Those were the words my father used to explain his decision to move with his new boyfriend halfway around the world. They were the centerpiece what was to be the last conversation we had, which took place in June 2012. I have spent countless hours wrestling with those words and the troubled relationship he and I have had.
At the time he left I was the only child he had contact with. After the divorce from my mom he lost connection with my four siblings. Not so much that he lost contact but rather that the feeble relationships he had with my siblings fell apart quickly after the divorce.
I became a father prior to his departure. Having my own children created a desire in me to both foster a connection with my own dad as well as model the father/son relationship for my young children.
My relationship with my father was always strained. Around the time I turned eleven, the age my eldest child is now, he buried himself in work and activities outside the home. To the point that I felt like I hardly saw him. I grew accustomed to not having him as a resource or a parent.
It is important to know that his father died when he was young. When he was still fairly young my grandmother remarried. I never knew how the relationship was between my father and his stepfather. We never really talked about it.
I must own my fair share of the responsibility for our poor relationship, especially in my later teenage years. I was definitely rebellious and his absence in my daily life caused me to push back anytime he tried to step in. I felt I didn’t need anyone, especially my dad, telling me what to do. Eventually we learned how to avoid each other in the space we shared. When we didn’t there were often heated arguments and harsh words.
Despite the difficult relationship we had I learned my greatest fatherhood lesson from him and it came in an unlikely way.
Countless times in the heat of an argument, in the midst of both of our anger and frustration, he’d shut it all down by pointing out that any inadequacy he had was because he never really had a dad so he never learned how to do it. I never had a response to that…. angry as I was I felt like that was a sound argument and I had to accept it.
Years later as I was preparing for my first child to be born that excuse echoed in my head. My dad’s excuse for being disinterested, strained and consistently absent was that no one taught him how to do it. I had the same excuse if I wanted to use it. Even before my children arrived I knew what he taught me was not what I wanted for my kids. I did not want them to have a poor relationship with me because of my dad’s inability to form one with me.
So I looked around for the positive male role models in my life. I took note of the things they did that I wanted to model for my children. I learned from my grandfather, my father-in-law, and the many youth leaders I had growing up. This collection of men and the relationships they formed with me helped build a collection of resources. I filed away the good examples and connection they provided for use in developing my own style of fatherhood. This is a practice I continue today as I meet other great fathers and learn from them.
Today I don’t accept his argument. Not having a father is no longer an acceptable excuse for not becoming a good father.
I love my kids too much. I love my kids too much not to try my hardest with them. I love my kids too much not to be there when they want me. I love my kids too much to ever tell them they are not enough to keep me close. I love my kids too much to miss watching them grow and become dads.
I am the only one responsible for a creating a good, positive relationship with my children.
This Father’s Day I will celebrate the relationship I am forming with my two young sons. I will celebrate the men who shared their examples with me. I will celebrate the fact that I let go of my father’s example and allowed myself to be my children’s dad without excuse.
(This post appeared on The Good Men Project)