Saturday, June 18, 2016

An Open Letter to the fatherless on Father’s Day

When I was a kid, Father’s Day was not one of the major holidays that I celebrated.  At least for me and my father.  My mom's side of the family would always gather at my grandfather’s house and grill out with all the fixings and for me, this was a totally normal Father’s Day.  That’s because I didn’t meet my father until I was eight and didn’t start spending time with him on a regular basis until I was nearer to my teens.  So for me, Father’s Day has always had a separate feeling.  With the rise in social media, I have started to feel year after year that this is someone else's holiday.  A holiday that I cannot possibly understand fully, at least not yet.  

Being raised by my mother and grandmother, Mother’s Day has been a very important day.  Heck, there are five mothers in my immediate family.  But for the first eight years, there was one father, my grandfather.  I’m lucky enough to have a grandfather that I cherish and that has given me some fantastic life advice and wonderful memories.  From a birthday party on a train to driving his precious 1951 Chevy on a power cruise through the mountains of Tennessee to always telling me to “Get my head in the game” as I spun circles in right field as a six-year-old aspiring big-leaguer.  Those are the moments where one would want a father to be there, but I had my grandfather and I could not wish for anything more than that. 

Between my teens and my early 20’s, I consciously decided to befriend my father who had decided to come into my life.   Although he imparted some serious cooking skills and a love for all things sports on me, that relationship was short lived.  When my father died in February 2011, one of my first thoughts was; "Wow, now I’ve really got to figure this out on my own".  I have to figure out what it means to be a good husband on my own, 
 theoretically. I have to figure out how to be a father on my own, again, theoretically, all without the guidance of one from here on out.  

Let me stop there by saying that the rest of this letter is not meant to only apply to those who have lost their father.  Maybe you have a father, but you are estranged.  Maybe you "Feel the Bern" but they are playing the "Trump Card".   Maybe they have passed away or you’ve never known them at all.   Whatever the situation, I hope you that you can find some solace, maybe a smile, and know you are not alone. 

I look back to the days after my dad passed and I was reeling with how I was going to figure life out after him and I wish I could shake some sense into myself.  I had learned those traits long ago, from my family.  Not just my immediate family, but my extended, extended family.   My mom had forced me to go to church when I was little and quickly I realized that I didn’t really fit in with the kids in the Youth Group, but I did connect with the older leaders and chaperones who were late teens, early 20's.  Some of them were in a Christian rock band, one worked at a bank and dreamed of being James Hetfield from Metallica, some of them just drank coffee and played video games with me.  I look back now, and I see that they imparted on me far greater lessons on how to be a true friend and hopefully, eventually, a good father, than I could have ever learned on my own.  They were there when my father wasn’t during my teen years.  They kept me away from drugs, stupid teen tomfoolery and instilled in me a love for great music and great films.   

Then, introspectively, I look at now.  I’m sitting in the kitchen of my fraternity brother's house in Fairfax, VA drinking coffee with his wife’s family.   He is in Kuwait.  He is doing what is necessary to provide for his family.   I’m blessed to be the godfather to his one-year-old son who is having a birthday party this weekend.   You can say that it’s my ‘duty’ to be here, but for me, it goes way beyond that.  I genuinely want to have a positive impact on this child’s life and show him the ways of The Force.   

I look at one of my other good friends who just became a father two months ago.  He is one of the toughest, most opinionated son of a guns you’ll ever meet, but when his daughter is in his arms and he smiles at her, that all comes crumbling down.  That’s a good father.  When I think of my buddy who had illusions of grandeur to become James Hetfield as a worship leader,  who let me live on his couch a few years ago when I had nowhere else to go, who couldn’t be more excited to have bought a minivan. I realize that’s a good father. 

Now, it would be asinine and disrespectful for me to ever fully compare myself to them at this time.  I’m a single dude living in a big metropolitan city with a normal late 20 something yuppie job but I have a child. I’m a dog dad.  I got Obi in October of 2015 in order to give myself some comfort.  I was still struggling with losing my father five years ago and I needed something to help me cope.  I’m not perfect, I bark at Obi as much as he barks at me.  But I absolutely love my dog with all of my heart.  So when he got sick in the middle of the night right before I drove up here, I was distraught.   I had to leave him with my Aunt and I’ve called to check on him every few hours since.  This in no way equates me with being a great father and I’m not suggesting that I be compared to a real father either.  But what this shows me is that my initial thoughts a few years ago are totally off the mark.   

Though I don’t have a father anymore, I realized that I had positioned myself to figure it out on my own.  Totally unbeknownst to me.  My friends, my family, they had shown me all along what it means to be a father.  I had heeded the precepts taught to me and had put myself in a position to take on the responsibility of being a Godfather.  I learned how to take care of a six-week-old puppy each and every day.  I am raising him to be a functioning member of the South End Charlotte doggy community.  But it also means more than both of those.

It means you put your family and your child before yourself.  It means to try to impart wisdom and guidance where you can and live as an example.  You try to be a solid foundation and provide for them however possible.  This whole time I thought I was fatherless, and in a purely physical sense, sure, that is true.   But I have a whole tribe of fathers that have taught me invaluable lessons.  I just never knew it. 

This Father’s Day, instead of brushing it away as just another holiday doesn’t mean anything to me, I choose to focus on those who have made an impact on their own children.  To thank them for what they are doing in their children's lives.  But I also want to help others recognize that maybe if you think outside the normal archetype of a father or fatherly figure, you can find those values instilled in you were fostered by great people.  Maybe they are men, maybe they are women.  

If anyone has an estranged father that they haven’t spoken to in years, I’m not going to tell you to reach out to them.  That’s not my place and that could open wounds that have been scarred over for many years.  Instead, try to focus on something else positive.  Focus on those other people in your life that have been there for you when nobody else was.  Think about the qualities that we assume are the qualities a father is supposed to possess.  Integrity, wisdom, guidance, steadfastness, and strength.   What if you have found that through a group of people, or someone else’s father?   Could you thank them?   Will you?  If you’ve lost your father and are still mourning the loss like I did for a long time, think back on the good times.  Think about what are the best qualities from him that are revealed now in you.  

Above all else, just know that even though you may feel fatherless, you are not.  Just as I am not.  I think back to that misogynist troll that one of my ex-girlfriends has as a father.  The one who said, “He’ll never make anything of himself because he doesn’t have a fatherly figure.”  Well, you know what, I do have a father.  I have my Grandfather.  I have my Uncles.  I have my close friends and fraternity brothers.  I even have a Stepfather now.  These men are shining examples every day of what it is to be a great father.  And I’m doing damn well, thank you.