I want to be a good father. It’s one of the legacies I wish to leave behind. Not that I have any children at the moment. I don’t. My wife and I have a plan though. We’ll begin to “try” for a child in about a year or so. Lord willing we want a little girl. Next we want a little boy. If we happen to have two boys then we plan to adopt a little girl as well. Bottom line: we want at least one boy and one girl. And I want to raise them right, a role model father.
I had the fortune of growing up with two dads; and yet in an ironic twist of things I often felt like I had none. My mom and “real” dad separated before my first birthday. I was named after him: Dennis. But she raised me by my middle name, Derek. My “real” dad was always a part of my life, but never really a big part. Christmas, Easter, the other big holidays, two or three times in the summer and if I was lucky I might have even seen him around my birthday (never on).
For as far back as memory serves, my step-father has always been in my life. I don’t ever remember him not being there, and I have no recollection of him entering our family. It was as though he was my dad. So that’s what I called him, “dad”. His name was Ken. He died two years ago at only 49. I still haven’t gotten over it. I painfully miss him.
I want to honor him. But I don’t believe I’d be honoring him very well by sugar-coating our history together and pretending he was the “world’s greatest dad” – he emphatically was not. But before I get to the good stuff I need to get some of the other stuff out of the way.
Life with Ken (dad) was somewhat of a rollercoaster. For starters, “yes” was not a part of his vocabulary. “No” on the other hand seemed to be his favorite word. I think saying “no” to us kids gave him a sense of power, a feeling and constant reminder of who the head of the house was. For another thing he never really worked. My mother worked hard all her life to make sure there was food on the table, but dad was always on some sort of work related “compensation”. So he was always home watching the cartoons he loved to watch as a kid: Tom and Jerry, Mighty Mouse, Rocky and Bullwinkle and Bugs Bunny and Friends. Often while we kids had hotdogs for dinner because money was so scarce, dad ate a large piece of steak like a king, and he often ate first.
He also had terrible physical ailments such as “type A diabetes” which he facilitated by not taking care of himself. It was not unusual for dad to be rushed to the hospital at least once a year, having slipped into a coma from time to time. My mom lived in constant fear, always pressing him to take better care of himself lest he make her a “young widow” (which he did). Eventually getting a job was no longer a laziness issue, but a physical one. His body would not allow him to do even the most simple of jobs.
He also had a temper. Fortunately he almost always took his temper out on the walls of the house. He was emphatically not a handy man, but he was really good at fixing drywall. He made enough holes in the walls of the homes we lived in and always had to fix them. As a child I was afraid of him, but not as much as my older brother was. He had a closer relationship with our “real” dad, having been older when the whole transition took place. He had less respect for Ken than I did, and as a result he feared him enough to almost fight back should it ever come to that.
Fortunately it never really did.
One thing for Ken (dad) which I can say with confidence: he was always there for me whenever I needed him. I think that was important to him, the desire to be “needed”. He wanted to be a “man”. To be a “macho man”. He wanted to support his wife and do special things for her. He wanted to earn, not command, respect. But the choices he made and the life he lived left consequences which grew beyond anybody’s control. By the time he was old enough to look back on his life and see the mess he made, it was too late.
When I became a man in my own right, I felt our roles reversed. I felt my father’s heart and broke with it every Valentine’s Day because he could not even afford to buy his wife a rose. He was ashamed and hated himself. I tried to help. I would give him money so he could get her a dozen roses and even a card. I wanted to restore at least some dignity to his manhood.
Despite how he raised me, he was my dad. Life slipped into cruise control and all he could do was look on in shame, guilt and condemnation. I went out of my way the last several years to let him know how much I unconditionally loved him. I would never leave him. His choices had consequences, but I would never be one of them.
In retrospect I wish I had a stronger male role model in my life. I am emphatically not a handy man. I care little for sports and still enjoy watching the old cartoons from time to time. I have outgrown the strong urge I used to have of wanting to put my fist through walls and slamming doors in the kitchen, but only by conscience effort been able to overcome this. My body screams to be lazy, but my spirit refuses. I have a fear of success and constantly struggle against self-sabotage.
But I have made a vow. I am a man of my word and will keep it.
I WILL be a good father.
I WILL be a good husband.
For any man who has grown up fatherless, or felt as though they had no father, or carry unresolved issues in their life as a result of who their father was or how he raised them, I recommend Donald Miller’s To Own A Dragon. I often had to put this book down to clean out my eye ducts.