Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How I'm Trying Not to Screw Up Fatherhood

We were in Utah recently hanging out with some old friends from my college improv troupe.  It was Father’s Day and many of us, in the intervening 6 to 8 years since we’d seen each other, had gotten married and become fathers and mothers. It was cool to look around and see so many friends had moved on with their lives in good ways. Life can go lots of ways.  The reunion could have taken place at a methodone clinic.

But I made a joke (it’s a comedy troupe, there’s lots of those) about how many of us will actually be able to call our fathers on Father’s Day.  I made the joke because I knew the particular parental makeup of the group meeting there.  Out of the six male members at this dinner, four had fathers who were dead, one estranged, and only one had a father that was living and involved in his life.  What a freak, right?

I kind of hate Father’s Day.  I always have.  It’s been a complicated road for me and my siblings in the father department and I’m not really going to launch into that here.  We had a great mother and our Heavenly Father picked up a lot of slack where earthly fathers should have been.  My grandfather was a saint and played Dad when he mostly just wanted to be a grandfather. And my Mom’s brother, Uncle John, pitched in, too.  This is not a “Oh, woe is me” post.  It’s an intro to my new job as Dad.

It’s a lie to say I’m treading untrod territory.  I know what a good dad is.  I’ve seen Cliff Huxtable in action.  But it feels strange/disconnected sometimes to do “dad things” for Edie.  I have very little memory of “dad things” to emulate.  Sometimes it feels like I imitate things I think dads do.  It’s like I’m checking off a list.


Dads swing kids in swings.  Check.
Dads throw kids in the air.  Check.
Dads give shoulder rides.  Check.
Dads play sports with kids.  Gag me.
Dads let kids play in puddles.  Double check.
Dads say “It’s okay” to kids when they fall.  Check.

And I like doing these things.  I like playing cliché Dad and finding real Dad moments through it.  I can’t over analyze everything.  There’s too much life going on.  But sometimes I wonder what my gauge is.  Like my improv friends who had fathers that died, it’s a strange thing to realize you only have your shadow to measure against.  Or I guess the idea of a shadow is all you have.

I remember looking in the mirror the first time I was going to shave and realizing I was terrified.  I could cut my face into hamburger.  Why was there no one to teach me? Who let me have this tiny knife? Why was I being trusted with this responsibility? Maybe my teenage rat mustache could be burned off?  Ultimately, I came through mostly unnicked.

As much I say I don’t care, I do wonder if I’m just suppressing a desire to look over my shoulder and have someone say, “That’s right, son. You’re doing it right.”  Parenthood is a strange solitary journey even when you have someone next to you co-piloting.  Then I guess life is a strangely solitary thing as well.  Your dreams are your own.  The echo of your thoughts inside your brain is yours alone.  It’s good kids have such crappy memories or they’d remember you messing up a lot.

The thing is, I want Edie to be in that room 30 years from now hanging out with her friends and when hands are raised for who still has their dad around, I want hers to be the one raised.  I know life is tricky and full of lots of sudden and tragic things.  But I like being her dad.  I’m crazy about it actually.  I’m going to try to stick around.

I was carrying her down the road last night in the 94 degree Boston humidity with her little body like a heater against me and my shirt clinging to me because of it and we both looked up at the hawk flying over us and she pointed at it and I said, “Hawk” and she paused and said “Haw-awk!” and she clapped for herself and I didn’t need anyone to tell me I was doing it right. I knew I was.

Though one nod from Dr. Huxtable would be alright.