Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day for Bastards

When I was a kid, Father's Day was sort of an awkward holiday.  There was no male figure in my house to receive the crafts and projects created in elementary school, as gifts to honor Dad.  I would try to explain to my teacher that I didn't have a father, but this was a long time ago - long before single parents were as prevalent as they are today. Almost without exception, my teacher felt it necessary to explain that, of course I have a father, everyone had a father.  And while I thought I understood the difference between having a father and knowing my father, there was still much I had to learn about the dynamics of having a male parent in my household.  I mean, I got it on some level, after all we did have a television -  I knew that men wore Old Spice, and liked to read the paper and wear slippers, and toss balls around.  There were men occasionally, usually family friends or the fathers of friends, who tried to exert a positive male presence in my brother's life, but I was largely left ignored when it came to pseudo-daddy attention.  Dads were apparently more important for boys to have than they were for girls, a message which I've never really understood in a world seemingly filled with Daddy's girls.

My husband was raised in a home with two parents until he was about 18 years old.  He did have a Dad who participated in his life, who was involved with his sports activities and was mostly present for family events, yet they share a very limited relationship with one another.  I'm sure Tom will call his Dad today, one of the 3 or 4 conversations they will exchange this year, and they will chat about the boys and my father-in-law's health and it will be pleasant.  While there isn't a genuine reason they don't communicate more frequently, other than distance and all that word implies, it used to freak me out that they weren't more connected.  Tom was wasting his "Dad opportunity" and I didn't understand it.  I will never forget the first time I met my father-in-law-to-be at a family wedding in Pennsylvania.  I observed a man walking and knew in an instant that it was Tom's father - they shared the exact same gait.  How could Tom not be closer to the man who literally gave him his stride? 

Over the years I've heard the family stories, and while Tom's Dad may have been physically present, it  seems that he was often emotionally absent.  So, while Tom may not be the traditional "bastard" I am, he certainly missed a critical component of the Dad experience. I mentioned I had a lot to learn about fathers and their role within a family.  I thought this gap in my knowledge was purely the result of not having been raised with a male parent, but I've come to understand that, like most important things, being a father is not simple. The paternal strengths I've observed in my own husband, the quick hugs, the words of encouragement and support, were created  more as  response to his father  than as a reflection of his father.  I can say without hesitation that my husband, and his brothers, are involved, affectionate, present parents and I have tremendous admiration and respect for the critical roles they each play in their children's lives.  And that's straight up legit.

1 comment: