I didn’t know my father. I knew his name and what he looked like. I kind of even knew what he did. But I didn’t know what he felt, what he believed, or what he thought about anything. I believe it’s important for my boys to know me and feel me in their lives.
I talk about my father in the past tense, even though he’s alive. My last conversation with him was in eighth grade at his father’s funeral. We spoke for about 10 minutes, although there were equal parts silence and conversation. Before that, I had seen him for a few days not long after my ninth birthday. I only remember a couple of other visits between then and when he and mom divorced. I was three at the time, but I don’t remember that part.
I’ve never felt hate for my father, but I’ve also never felt love. It’s the lack of his presence in my life that has left me ambivalent towards him. Maybe it’s worse that I feel nothing. There are no memories of him that I can react to. I shape what I want to impart to my children based on my idea of what I would have wanted to know about my father when I was growing up.
My wife and I decided when our oldest was born that I would stay home and take care of him. I had a job at the time, but wasn’t the primary breadwinner in the family. Most of my salary would have gone to childcare. We decided to pay me instead. When our second son, Noah, came along 19 months later, we stayed the course.
As a stay-at-home dad, I didn’t necessarily stay at home. I took the boys to half day preschool in the mornings and took them on outings in the afternoon. There were mommy’s group activities, parks, and play dates with another stay at home dad I met. When the preschool had a Halloween parade, I went dressed up as well. One year I went as Hagrid and the boys went as dual Harry Potters. This led to my being Hagrid for a full week at their Harry Potter themed vacation bible school one summer.
I volunteer in activities that gives my boys visibility to me. I’m an adult Scout leader because I want my boys to know I take an interest in their activities. I’m on the PTA so that when I ask them how school was during dinner, they’ll answer and then ask how school was for me.
I’ve talk to my boys openly and honestly. I don’t talk down to them. I treat them as worthy of respect and expect the same from them. At age four, Noah asked me about death. Specifically, he wanted to know about cemeteries. He didn’t want deep philosophical answers, but he wanted what questions he did have addressed. The family took a field trip to a nearby cemetery. Walking along we looked at gravestones for soldiers from the civil war and even earlier. It wasn’t a sad walk. I talked about my grandfather who fought in World War II and about my brother who had been in the marines.
My boys don’t always agree with my decisions. But they always know why I make them. I apologize when I’m wrong. They know that I expect more of them than some of their friend’s parents expect of their children. My response is always, I expect what I do from them, because I know who they are and what they’re capable of being.
A few days ago a scout leader took me aside and shared that my oldest boy was one of his favorite scouts. He commented that my son is thoughtful, respectful, sharp, and when he speaks up, his fellow scouts listen to what he has to say. The adult believes that he will be a strong leader in and out of scouts. I’ve had similar experiences where parents, teachers, and adults tell me what great boys I have. I always do two things. I thank the person telling me, acknowledging that my wife and I have worked hard helping them grow up. Then I make sure I tell the boys. I want them to hear from their father how wonderful they are and how proud I am to be a part of their lives.