this is seth’s fault.
we’re coming up on 18 years since dad passed. i still miss him every day. figuring out my way in this world without him in it still makes me pull up short sometimes and wonder what advice he’d give me. what thoughts he’d have about this repair or that purchase or input in a conversation. how he’d handle everything mom’s been through and going through. and of course just how much impact it must have on my kid brother; he’s nearly lived more life now without dad in it than in. his kids didn’t ever have a chance to meet their grandpa.
dad would have been a *fantastic* grandpa.
but this isn’t about *my* dad – not really. it’s about dads, in general, and those i know, specifically.
mom’s get a lot of the credit, and rightfully so. they carried us around inside their baby-making caves and figured out what on *earth* to do with us once someone handed us off and said something like, “congratulations! here’s your discharge papers, good luck!” many, many women do *all* of the work from that time forward, and they are heroes, and i would never take any of that away from them.
but you men – you need to know something. you form your child. you do it with your presence, and your absence. my point today, therefore, is this: be present. when you can, however you can, be present.
i, and my brother, are nearly every bit who we are today because of our dad. he was present, when he could be. there were plenty of times that he couldn’t be; times he traveled for work, long days working in his shop. but when he could be there, he was present. because of my dad, i know how to change my own tire, my own oil. i know how to install light fixtures, build walls, and listen to repairmen try to talk me into things that i don’t need just so i can let them finish and then respond with, “we could do that… or we could just do what i need, which is xyz.” my brother can tear apart a car and put it back together, repair small engines, and buy and sell real estate.
a large portion of our upbringing was in a church environment, where dad was always the go-to man. church needs new sunday school classrooms? he designed them and oversaw their construction. the pastor’s family is moving again? he was there with his truck and trailer, us kids in tow. church needs cleaning every week before services? you guessed it; dad and i were there every saturday. the widow jones’ daughter backed into the mailbox? dad fixed her car *and* the mailbox. dad was a giver. family first, others before himself.
far beyond the age when it was necessary (literally in high school) dad was always the one that “put us to bed,” usually with a story told by his animating a stuffed bear like a puppet. maybe the story was about how dad fixed the toilet, or how the truck backfired like a gun when he first got it running. i don’t recall him ever reading us stories, certainly never fairy tales. but he attended every choral concert i was ever in, and drove me to the early morning practices, and was just as excited as i was when our concert choir made district finalist. when my brother didn’t want to be “the only one” not on the baseball team, dad would go to all the games and most the practices, sitting there in the stands, likely thinking about all the things he could be doing at home, his right hand silently resting against his upper lip, watching every move my brother made. dad taught both of us to drive at an early age; long before 15.
all of that to say all of this: you don’t have to be there every moment of every day. but when you are there, and other things can wait, be there for whatever is going on for your kids. be the dad that plays dress up and does the tea party. be the dad that gets down on the floor and builds great big wonderful things with legos. be the dad that teaches your kids the difference between a crescent wrench and an open-ended (if you know). be the dad that plays the card games, or the video games, or listens to the totally lame story (or really great story) that your kid made up. be the dad that goes to the games, and only looks at his phone once. twice, tops. okay, three times, but only because your kids’ team is at bat and your kid’s not up for six batters.
be the dad that teaches your sons to respect women. that teaches your daughters they can do so much on their own. raise feminists. raise givers. raise empathizers and sympathizers. raise compassionate, *good* humans.
because that’s what’s going to turn this fucked up world around. not the fastest runners, or the best mathematicians, or the all-state wrestlers, or the prom queens, or the most accurate shooters (not that there is anything wrong with any of those things). teach your kids to do the most simple thing – to be present.
and this isn’t an attack aimed at any of you, dear readers. first of all, i’m 99% sure the only people ever reading this know me well enough to know i would never. i’m also 100% sure that all of you, my friends who are dads, are already doing just this. i don’t think i could be friends with a man who was a terrible father. i don’t think any of you have ever once said to me, “ugh, i have to go do this stupid thing for my kid,” or “if it wasn’t for my kids i could do ___.” all of you are wonderful dads. one of you has been to so many cheer competitions over the years i’ve lost track of the awards. one of you has spun stories and imaginary friends into your novels. one of you treats mealtime with your kids like it’s a chef’s taster’s kitchen, and they eat everything. one of you is scared shitless about your child’s next surgery, but will *never* show it and will be there *every* moment. one of you gives your love so freely you adopted another child. one of you wakes at the crack of ass for your kid’s swim practices.
this isn’t even an attack at all. it’s in praise of you, the good dads. the ones who worry you’re gonna fuck up your kids somehow. that you’re not there enough. that you work too many hours, or drive too many miles, or just don’t *get* these cartoons these days. you need to know something – as someone who was raised by one of the best fathers – you’re doing great. all you need to do is what you’re doing. just keep being there. bandage the bo-bos. change the diapers. don’t buy everything they want, teach them the value of a dollar. teach personal responsibility. reward the good behaviors and punish the bad ones. and above all,
be the dad your kids miss when you’re not there.
because you won’t always be there.
i love you, dad.