This may be a little early, but I found myself facing this weekend dreading it. So, I fear if I wait I will never be able to write these words, and maybe in their writing I can make my feelings concrete and color them differently.
Ever since I was grown I always wanted a family. I was very taken with the idea of getting married and having children so that I could share all the wonders of the world to their fresh eyes. It perhaps made me rush relationships, commit too quickly, keep bad relationships too long, and move life plans around that might have otherwise changed my life inexorably.
Thirteen years ago this December I got my wish, as we welcomed my son Logan into this world. Being a father was everything I could have hoped for, while also being unlike anything I could have expected. The ability to hold this small child in your hand, your very legacy, and know that you have torn out a part of your heart to send manifest into this world is something that I cannot fully explain to those of you without children.
Six years later our daughter, Kylie was born. After losing three of her brothers and sisters to miscarriage, our second miracle was born. The cliché goes that the daughter would wrap the father around her finger, and though I chafed at that expectation, I knew as soon as I looked into her eyes it was so. She struggled to breathe when she was born, and we couldn’t really hold her at first. Instead she was put directly under this oxygen hood crib, and plugged up to monitors.
It was only 3 or 4 hours she remained like this as we bothered the nurses to find out if she would be ok. There were no chairs in this room, and so I stood next to her, holding her hand while I sang and talked to her. I promised her that she would be ok, and that no harm would come to my children if I could ever prevent it.
The joy of children is unlike any I’ve ever experienced, and it isn’t something that is easy to explain. I expect that a good deal of you reading this know love, at the very least of the parental type. Now imagine that love personified, and built into a person that you made, possibly with the one person you love most in this world. With unrestrained enthusiasm they love you, because they know no other real emotion at that time. They need you, look up to you, learn from you: to them you are literally their whole world for a time.
When your offspring run to you after a long day with arms outstretched yelling “Daddy!” with true, real joy, and leap into the air knowing you will catch them–because how could Daddy ever not catch them–you will know the real boundaries of how full your heart can be.
I often grouse and complain about my children, because that is also what parents do. Raising children is extremely hard, harder than anything I’ve done in my life. These small people look up to you, and you guide and shape their lives in ways that have consequences that will follow them their whole lives. When your children are born some Dad switch does not flip on, you do not instantly change from who you were, no matter what movie you have watched that tells you this is to be so.
Instead you fail them, and then you fail them again, and again, time after time making mistakes because this is the first time you’ve done any of this. You try to love them, provide them with everything they need, never yell, and read five million conflicting reports of how to parent them best. I’ve yelled at my children, spanked them, talked to them like adults, like children, I’ve done time-outs and taken toys, and even cussed at them out of utter frustration and anger.
You make these mistakes, you hope they won’t make them, and you do your best. Because what else can any of us really do?
I have a son that is not neuro-typical, and I cannot convey to you the challenges of raising him here as it would require explaining twelve years of explanation, of late night screaming fits, of tearful sorrow filled talks with a child who doesn’t understand why they don’t fit in.
Being a Dad is HARD.
And I would want this no other way. I love my children beyond imagining, I would do anything for them. This second I would give up every comfort I have, lay down my life if it was so needed, to protect them and make them happy.
Father’s Day has changed since I became a father nearly thirteen years ago, a strange duality took over the holiday because I was a father to my own children who wished to celebrate me, but also a son to a father that I was to celebrate.
This year however I go into this weekend and the subsequent holiday with horribly conflicted feelings. On one hand, my children are very happy and excited to give me what they feel is the best present ever. I’m not necessarily looking forward to whatever material thing they are to give me (though of course I can’t help but wonder at what it is), as much as I am the expectant smiles as they present it to me.
An errant thought occurred to me today that I had forgotten to buy my father a present, and then I remembered he was gone. This will be my first Father’s Day since my Dad died, and the pain is deeper than any I’ve ever known.
My father was not a perfect man, but he overcame an immense amount of adversity in his life and at the end of it stood taller than any man I’ve ever known. My brothers and I have never truly wanted for anything, as my Dad always provided for us, even when it meant going to war. He left the life in a military that he loved so much to be with us, but never truly quit being a soldier to the day he died. It was he who taugh us to know right from wrong, sometimes with lessons we didn’t want to learn, but it made us the men we are today. It was the Master Sergeant in him that made sure we all know what hard work is, how to take pride in our work, and why we all try so hard to provide for our own families today.
The world is forever diminished without him in it, and though I miss him everyday, I will try to hold tight to all the wonderful times he gave me and my family. I will try to make him proud in every way I can, so that when the day comes for my life to end I might stand half as tall as he.
So go to your Dad, whether he is your biological one, or the one who was there for you. Tell him how much you love him, write him a letter expressing everything, and hug him tight even if you are a man and think it strange. One day he will not be there, and you would give anything to do so.
If you are a father, hold tight to your children and bring them close. Accept your macaroni necklace, garish tie, or small treasure with a beaming smile of pride. Use this day to allow yourself to be celebrated, but also use it as a renewal of a vow to do the absolute best you can for them. To not be perfect, but be present in their lives, bring them joy, to try to never bring them sorrow, and do everything you can to let them know how deeply you love them. Throw out all that ‘I have to be a tough man’ nonsense, and just be their Dad.
To all the Dads out there that strive so hard for all of these things, Happy Father’s Day.
And Happy Father’s Day to you Dad. I love you.