Father’s Day

So hey, it’s near­ly Father’s Day again. A day that is fraught for me — I know what stirs up the anx­i­ety and it’s main­ly igno­rance at how well I’m doing my job.

I’ve cer­tain­ly writ­ten about it enough:

Being a dad is my favorite thing and being a sin­gle dad is a pret­ty tough job. I don’t know how much eas­i­er it would be with a part­ner, so I don’t know how hard it is to be a dad in a nuclear/whole fam­i­ly for­mat. The times I’ve had a part­ner that got to spend qual­i­ty time with my child, That third dimen­sion added a notice­able and healthy lev­el of com­plex­i­ty to our lives. So I often feel that that my father/son dynam­ic is two-dimen­sion­al in com­par­i­son. We miss out on a lot togeth­er because I have to work, and main­tain a clean home, pro­vide healthy meals, and struc­ture and adult instruc­tion he does­n’t get else­where. I have a bit of guilt over this — I feel like the added lev­el — that part­ner, that nuclear fam­i­ly, is some­thing I should be able to pro­vide to him.

Being a sin­gle dad is tough in weird ways. I’m not as self-con­scious as I was a few years ago about being a sin­gle dad out with his kid. I don’t care — but I do notice the oth­er sin­gle dads, and help out when I can by tak­ing pho­tos. I know those inter­nal moments of cha­grin when you take a pic­ture of your kid doing some­thing mem­o­rable with no way to show that yes, you were there, you were the one to make it hap­pen. There also isn’t an emo­ji for sin­gle parents.

I also wor­ry about him when he’s with his mom. We have dia­met­ri­cal­ly opposed views on 99% of what is in his best inter­est. The only way to mit­i­gate is to lit­i­gate and I don’t make that kind of cash. I do my best to teach my son the skills he is not learn­ing else­where, and I must also keep rein on myself so that I don’t try to over­com­pen­sate to solve for his oth­er life.

I’m 20+ years out from hav­ing had any mean­ing­ful, non-far­ci­cal inter­ac­tion with my dad. I only have a sense of him from a 14 year old boy’s per­spec­tive — I’ve learned to be a man by tri­al and error, and learned to be a father by being not-my-father. Yet I’m smart enough to real­ize that “not-my-father” is a 14 year old’s shal­low under­stand­ing of father­hood. The only ways that I know I’m act­ing like my father are the only ways I knew my father act­ed when I was 14. I know I was a dis­ap­point­ment to him. I do not know if he was proud of me. I do not know if he had wis­dom to impart to a grown son. I do not know the ways I am a reflec­tion of him. I’ve asked fam­i­ly mem­bers to tell me how he was — or what they see of him in me, and haven’t got­ten the best answers.

My mom tried and failed to answer that ques­tion, no fault there — how does one answer it? But sweet­ly and clev­er­ly approached it this year by send­ing me a pho­to album of pic­tures of me and my dad — the most recent one over 25 years old. The album is more than half emp­ty. I can’t look at the pho­tos with­out cry­ing — and they are famil­iar tears — they are the ones I get when­ev­er I’m ter­ri­fied that I’m not being a best par­ent — when I lose my con­cep­tion of what it means to be a best par­ent — when I don’t know what to do to help my son grow into some­one brave, inde­pen­dent, empa­thet­ic, lov­ing, and capa­ble. The pic­tures show love, but what hap­pened to it? Where did it go? Being a father is high fuck­ing stakes, and I’ve always hat­ed sec­ond-rate, and not know­ing when the rules change.

I want to know these things about my father because I have no father fig­ure to seek advice from. I have three won­der­ful uncles who each pro­vide their own excel­lent exam­ples of how to be a good father, but I don’t feel close enough, or safe enough, or like they under­stand me like a father would in order to ask for advice. I’ve been per­fect­ing brava­do since I gave up on my father at 14. I don’t know how an adult son approach­es a father. I’ve had no prac­tice being the son in a healthy rela­tion­ship, or hav­ing a healthy father. I feel bad that my son and I have to fig­ure this out togeth­er. I don’t know, is it like that for every father?

Most of the peo­ple who tell me I’m a good father have had crum­my fathers. I don’t know if that means any­thing, or if I’m just being an ass.

Father’s Day is fraught because my son has no one to teach him to hon­or his father. A father can’t do it — that’s nar­cis­sis­tic. He’s missed the prepa­ra­tions for sev­er­al Father’s Days — all I want is a hand­made card and a can­dy bar — but I don’t blame him. Some­one else should be teach­ing him to take care of that busi­ness. He’s only 8. There is zero fault for him in this — but it shows me that there are some things I can’t teach him, and that he won’t learn at all unless there is some­one else to teach him. When my mom was up here a cou­ple of week ago I asked her to get him to work on a card while I ran errands. That’s the kind of stuff a sin­gle dad has to do.

He says he’s going to be a sin­gle father, and adopt a daugh­ter and a son. They are going to live on an exo­plan­et and I can come vis­it on a rock­et when­ev­er I want. I know what all of that means, and I know the mean­ing of none of it.

The point that comes from all of this, if there is one, appears to be a chron­ic, low-grade fever feel­ing that I am not giv­ing my son the best life that he deserves. I doubt, I grope for tools I nev­er saw used, and don’t know the name of. I work the skills I do have, but don’t have enough time to give him every­thing I want him to have. A healthy meal and emo­tion­al sup­port solve a lot, but not every­thing. I have him half of the time and that is just not enough for me to give him all he needs. I’m effi­cient, but he’s a boy, not a process.

So there is it. I feel my best isn’t good enough — and I hate sec­ond-rate. What do I tell myself?

Who cares? It does­n’t mat­ter. I don’t do this for glo­ry, renown, or my own sat­is­fac­tion. I love my son. I do it for him.

So fresh and so clean clean.

A pho­to post­ed by Adam Har­vey (@adamincle) on