Saturday, June 18, 2011

Becoming Dad

Becoming a father is an easy thing:  Find a willing, fertile female, engage in unsafe and unprotected sexual activity, repeat as often as opportunity presents itself, and voila', you're a father.  It's easy, and it happens literally millions of times a year around the globe.  We are a remarkably fecund species.

Becoming a dad, on the other hand, requires some indoctrination.  It helps if you had a good example in your own life to use as a reference point, or missing that, knew someone who did.  I learned a little about being a dad from my own father, and dozens of other strong, faithful, giving men.  Men grown up from boys by the acceptance of responsibility, and the willingness to bear its weight.  My own dad wasn't a sophisticated man or well educated, but he and my mom worked hard and gave me every advantage they could.  Now, in retrospect, I understand how often this commitment was sacrificial in scope.

I was an adopted child, as long time readers of this blog will know, yet I was absolutely his son, no question, no doubt, no discussion.  Sometime in the future I will likely write the story of how I spent my summer vacation last year, when I met my natural mother, a brother and two sisters, and talk about the kind of forfeit that mother made, and the courage it takes to make such a decision.  But that is for a later time when my thoughts are more centered.  Today is about dads.

I became a father, well, step-father, in June of 1983.  I approached it from the inside-out.  I married a woman with three children, ranging from six to fourteen, and skipped the whole diaper-changing, bottle feeding, toddler-proofing era of fatherhood.  Sweet!  I got along with the ex, the in-laws liked me, this fatherhood thing was a snap.  Oh, to be sure, there were the cultural conflicts--I was a conservative Republican, they were all tree-hugging Commies, well, Democrats anyway.  They had different familial traditions, and the kids had the temerity to take the chicken breast portion at the dinner table without even asking.  I was eighteen before I got the chicken breast.  I ate the wings, gizzards, legs and thighs.  That was an adjustment.  Truth was, I didn't really like the breast meat all that much, it was just that I was the grown up and I was entitled.

Becoming Dad turned out to be mostly about passing tests.  For the fourteen year old boy, who had spent three years as the 'man of the house', I had to pass the sticky test.  Was I going to be there when it mattered?  Was I trustworthy?  Would I try to rigidly impose a new set of values contradicting their own?  (Yes; yes; the jury is still out.)

For the middle daughter some of the questions were similar, but less sophisticated.  Who was I and what was I doing living in her house?  Did she have to do what I said?

The youngest probably just wondered where the stability would come from in his life.

It is a truism that kids learn and take their cues from the influential adults in their lives, and fortunately for me, acceptance by grandparents, and even the divorced father, gave me a little extra leeway to make mistakes, adjustments and atonements, and over time I became accepted.

People who know me well, and more than a few that have crossed swords with me, know that I am fiercely loyal to my family and friends.  I had opportunities to demonstrate those loyalties, and the kids learned that they could call me any time of the day or night, for any reason and I would knock down the gates of Hell if need be to get to them with help.  What's more important is they know it is still true today.

My kids grew up & got married, I grew grey (not necessarily a cause and effect) and they became adults and parents of their own.  I was honored when they came to me in times of crisis, and I got my chance at changing diapers, feeding bottles, watching sitting up become crawling, then doodle-bugging, then walking, and just last Wednesday, graduating from eighth grade.  This is about where I came in.

My kids make me proud every day.  They slay dragons for their children, they shoulder the burdens willingly, they sacrifice themselves for their children, they touch my heart.  They worry about me and their mother and their ninety-two year old grandmother.  If only a pinch of this caring came from me, I am fulfilled.

Becoming Dad was about learning how to share love, instill faith and hope and a sense of duty and honor. Becoming Dad was also about learning to accept differences, respecting other opinions, and keeping my mouth shut when I desperately wanted to shout a warning that would not be heeded.  Becoming Dad is about understanding that there are lessons that cannot be taught, but can only be learned, even by a dad.

Thanks, kids, for the education.  I wouldn't change a single minute, for it is through the trials and triumphs we all have become who we are  I love you all, each and every one--not from the ties of blood--but the strings of my heart.