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:
- 19 Jun 2005: Father’s Day
- 19 Jun 2010: Cleveland Metroparks Train Day
- 1 Oct 2010: How Becoming a Parent Changed Me
- 19 Feb 2011: My Dad Died
- 17 Jun 2012: Father’s Day
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.