I Dad, Therefore I Am

Finding Solace in Parenthood

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglass

I looked down into those little blue eyes, and tears streamed down my face. She was but 8 lbs — so delicate, so defenseless. She couldn’t possibly see me yet, but her eyes gazed back into mine. She stopped crying and just listened to the sound of my baritone voice as I promised the moon, the sun and the stars for her. I was going to do everything I could do to make her happy. She was my immortality, my future, my hope. I had no idea what to do, but I was going to do my best to be what I had to be, for her. I was no longer just a man, nor a husband. I was now a father and the world would never be the same again.

As a young man growing up, I lacked positive male role models. My father was a cowardly cold man who had no problem telling me that he’d never wanted me. Both grandfathers were problems in their own right. My father was my dad in form only, going to work and providing financially, but the only attention he ever gave me was out of a sense of societal obligation, or the violent kind no one wants. I remember, back when I was a boy scout, him attending a father-son camping trip. I was 15 years old, and he asked if I wanted to play a game of catch with an American football. I remember thinking “who the hell are you?” as the last time I’d had a game of catch with father was as a very young boy and my mother had forced him to. This time, he was doing this act of pretend fatherhood for the benefit of looking good to the other dads and boys. Still, even then knowing it was fake, it meant something to me. My father passed away a few years ago. We were estranged for years, me finally tired of his bigotry, ugliness and apathy. I stumbled across his out of state obituary by accident, where it listed his survivors. I was not among them.

Just over two decades ago, I became a father for the first time. I didn’t know what the heck to do, and decided to try and do the exact opposite of what my father would have done. I had a baby daughter, and I loved her. I was going to do everything I could to make her life as happy as possible. I lived for my little girl.

Before her second birthday, her mother cheated on me and was leaving me for the other man, leaving the state together. When she was packed up and leaving, I was broken. I carried my sleeping daughter to the car seat, secured her in and kissed her forehead. As she was driven off, I staggered into my apartment, collapsed on the floor and cried for hours.

A few weeks later, my ex wife returned to Los Angeles to see her family. I went to see my daughter, but she no longer knew me. The same little face that would light up when I got home, would giggle loudly when I played with her and would actively search for me when I was out of the room, looked at me with confusion. I was her father, but I was no longer her dad. My relationship with my daughter went through many phases, but I never was able to return to that original father-daughter bond I had when she was my little baby girl. I never stopped loving her as much as I did, nor will I ever stop.

I began to question if I was a good father, if I could be a good father. One thing I thought is that I could never be a good father to a son. I wasn’t the stereotypical dad type that boys usually want. While all little boys want to envision their dads could beat up anyone, I’m not prone to violence. Even years ago when I was a bouncer at an Irish pub I never resorted to physical action to resolve an issue. I’ll buy someone a drink to ease a conflict before I throw a punch… probably because even though I do know how to defend myself, boxed and kickboxed for years for fitness, I also know that, to quote Isaac Asimov, violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. I’m also not into sports, preferring the arts and literature. I am the anti-definition of a man’s man, though I am very much male.

In time I became a husband again, and a father this time to a little boy. I had so many doubts that I could be what I needed to be for him. It is hard for a new father to often connect with his children at first. Young babies seem to have so little need for their fathers. As my son grew, my connection grew with him. I found my whole focus shifting to his needs. I still felt in many ways like a fraud and failure as I was morbidly obese. I ached inside when I couldn’t go on amusement park rides with him, or struggled to play with him. I took steps, lost the weight and was determined to be the best father I could be. My son deserved that.

Fast forward a few years to now. After renewed single-hood, with 18 months of dating, I’ve basically packed it in. I question whether it’s more my demisexual nature or if I’m just broken now, but my focus in life has completely shifted to that of being a father. My daughter and I are in a pretty good place, having had a brief estrangement I later discovered was exasperated by her having been coerced into gay conversation therapy by her mother and former fiance. It sickens me that I couldn’t have prevented that, but we had little communication and a strained relationship with her mother didn’t help. I simply didn’t know until the damage had been done. She’s moved, again, to another state. I intend to visit her soon, with her brother.

My life may seem pretty boring to most, as I pick my son up from school or summer camps everyday, spend time with him, cook him healthy meals and try my best to keep him growing, learning and being happy. I recently told him there are three things I never want him to ever doubt: that his father loves him, is proud of him and cares about him. We have little adventures all the time. My son loves me, and so does my daughter.

I still don’t think I’m a great father. I just try every day to be a good father. I think the moment you believe you have it down you start to fail. I sometimes speak harshly to him, and always apologize and ask for his forgiveness. Parents are not perfect… far from it. Some of us are just trying to get our kids to adulthood needing less therapy that we do. I just try to be the father I wish I could have had.

Earlier this year, there was tremendous backlash over a YouTube video, created by the Gilette shaving company, that spoke out against sexism, male toxicity and the ugly “boys will be boys” excuse. I think it was well done, and the whole definition of what being a man is should be challenged. It echoed many of the virtues I try to instill into my son, and I hope he can carry forward when, or if, he becomes a father. I choose to define myself by my humanity, not my manliness. I hope my son does too.

I just hope I’m enough, for my children and theirs.