It’s not an easy question to answer ‘what my dad did right,’ because the true answer is: nothing. I know who my father is, and he knows who I am, but that’s about the end of the story. Because of whatever reasons he might have had, we never formed a relationship. My mother moved about 6 hours away from where he was, and aside from some very awkward calls now and then, he was a non-entity in my life. As a child, I can’t say it affected me all that much. It was just the way things were. As I got older, it weighed more heavily on me, and it got harder and harder to accept rejection on that level. And regardless of whatever circumstances the man claimed, it was full-scale, no holds barred rejection.
Obviously this was all very much on my mind as the birth of my first son approached. I feared, on some level, that whatever was in my father that allowed him to not take part in my life would be present in me, and I would disappoint my son in some way. At six months old, I can already see myself overcompensating, making up for the perceived paternal flaw in my genetic makeup, so he never feels the same way I did. I can already hear Oliver years from now in my head: “I got it, Dad. You can leave me alone now.” “Are you sure Ollie? I’ll be right here for you.” “OK, Dad. Just let go of my hand now, and stop crying please.” “Sure thing, son.”
So what was it my dad did right? Well, in some twisted backwards way, he’s shown me what to never ever do. I’ve known my son for a matter of weeks, but I already know that if he was taken away from me, I’d go there. Often. I want to know who he’s going to be. I want him to know that he always has my support. I want him to know that he’s going to be loved one hundred percent no matter what he does. It is absolute and final. My son will never have to make awkward jokes on Father’s Day. My son will know what a real father is, because I know how terrible it feels to not know, and I will do everything I can to make sure he has no idea what it was like to grow up like I did.
And it’s going to annoy the snot out of him.
If you grow up with an absent parent, where no circumstances other than choice dictate how involved they are in your life, you do wonder, from time to time, if it’s you. You wonder if there’s something about you that caused that rejection. But now, I know, and I knew moments into my young son’s life, that it’s not in me. It’s in him. Oliver will grow up with a nauseatingly supportive father, who’s right there. All the time. Even when he thinks he’s had enough.
In some perverse, backwards way, that’s the lesson I learned from my father. I learned how to do the right thing, because I knew the wrong thing so well.
“Dad, you can go now.”
“I will, son. In just a minute.”