That word. Father. I’ve said it and heard it said to me. It’s a unique amalgamation of respect and responsibility. Steeped in legend and filled with embedded images all wrapped up into a collection of syllables. The weight it carries can only be experienced – and only by those who choose to walk the perilous path fatherhood sets out for them. It can be abandoned, this gift among gifts, and thrown away for self interest or out of fear.
Father is a word I’ve struggled with the past thirty-seven years of my existence. It all starts for me in a small house on lower-middle class side of the town I used to live in. At a young age my biological father disappeared, leaving my mother to raise my brother and I alone for a time. I have vague and foggy memories of him, just shapes and rough images. These are gathered into emotional vibrations I can reach back and feel. I remember my mother had a brown pillow with two people – husband and wife – stitched onto it which used to rest on the floor near her sewing machine of our first house. I would stare at that pillow and wonder if the man in that image was my father. I was old enough to understand that when my mother remarried, the man who would become my step-dad wasn’t my biological father.
The man who disappeared became an echo throughout my early life and into my twenties, when I was finally able to lay my hate and disdain for him aside. It took time to understand that humans make mistakes, they fail, and when they do, things outside of their control happen. I was collateral damage in the destructive end of my mother’s first marriage, as was my brother. I won’t speak to his perspective, but being older than me, I’m sure his memories are clearer and as such, more painful. I won’t speak to the rumors or stories I’ve heard about what happened at the end of their marriage, since I can’t corroborate them with facts. I know the aftermath of what my mother went through and that was enough for me to convince myself that I would never let any of my future children know that pain.
And to some extent, I failed.
Perspective is a funny thing. Hindsight allows me to dissect what went south with my first marriage. I could write pages and pages about my feelings on the matter, but I don’t see it as helpful for this post. What I can tell you is this – telling my children that the marriage between their mother and I was coming to an end is undoubtedly the hardest day of my life. For months I felt like a complete failure. I’d failed them and the oath I’d sworn to myself all those years ago. I wondered how I could still be their father when they no longer lived with me. It crushed me, ground up my soul, and sprinkled it out on the dying flowers outside, but it was the love my children returned to me during those dark times which allowed my heart to bloom again. Father wasn’t a word I owned by right, it was a title I had to earn each day. I felt that I’d provided for them well over the years, made sure they were kept safe, and taught them lessons my father taught me.
Yet that isn’t enough. Fatherhood requires more than you think you can give, and then when you find the extra you didn’t know you had, it asks for more. I am blessed to have two boys who are healthy and strong, without major medical complications or many of the difficulties other parents go through. I’ve never taken that for granted, and I never will. The time I get to spend with them is precious, because someday their own lives will become busy like mine. They will outgrow the need for me to provide for them, but they will never outgrow the need for my love.
My father – the only one who earned the title – taught me in his own way what it meant to serve in that role. I cannot stress that word enough, as a role of a father is to serve his family. He was short on saying the words “I love you” but he showed us in the way he supported his family, even to the point of being taken advantage of. He has always been there for me, but no more so when I was going through the hardest times of my life, for which I am beyond grateful. If my children can say the same of me when I am in my mid-sixties I will have done my job.