A Father’s Day letter to future fathers

Dear Guys,

So, you are going to be a father, or maybe you just became one.  Maybe you are just thinking about it.  Regardless you are here and it is Father’s Day and we are talking about  being a dad.  Sit down and second and let’s talk.

Let me start here:  Parenthood, more than anything, has defined me.  My 25 years in the military played a big part as well, but becoming and being a father is the greatest thing I have achieved.

Looking back, I feel like everything I did up to that glorious spring day when I first looked Parker in the eyes was preparing me to be a dad.  As I stood there in the Army hospital holding my son and falling in love at the speed of light, I realized that any preparation my previous life offered was woefully and completely inadequate.  You can’t really prepare for it or be ready for it.  None of that really seems to matter when you look in a face that is already familiar and make the Father’s Promise.  The specific wording is up to you, but we all do it . . . and so will you.

I won’t lie, the reality of being a father sets in really quickly and can stomp all over the little love-fest you have the moment you first hold your child.  I did my first diaper change on Parker the day after he was born because I detected a little ‘poopy’.  (That’s right, diaper checks and looking down the back of toddler pants for poopy butts will be your reality for awhile.)  I changed the diaper and was proudly holding him when his face turned all red.  I was a bit alarmed because . . .  well  . . . he was all red and scrunch-faced.  Then his butt exploded.  This was no cute little poopy . . .  this was a all-hands-on-deck-five-alarm mess.  Reality.  That is a minor example of reality.  Midnight feedings . . . these can actually be ok because lots of times your are already up because your little air raid siren is still going when the 2 a.m. feeding rolls around.  There are different facets of reality and they range from ‘I microwaved your cell phone’ to times like when 4-year-old Parker had a febrile seizure and stopped breathing.  Reality.  For me the overall reality is my sons make me a better person.  The most important things I ever learned about being a man I learned from my boys

My point here is to point out that the time immediately after you become a father can be tough.  But then something happens.  You realize that your reality now is immeasurably better than your reality before.  Then you will realize that it is better because you now know what total, complete unconditional love is and it is worth every poopy diaper and the profound responsibility of raising and influencing another human being.  Make no mistake . . . you will have an immense influence on your child.  I remember looking at Parker and thinking, “Oh my god . . . I am in charge . . . I am not sure where my car keys are and I am this kid’s life compass . . . If he turns out to be an asshole it’s going to be my fault.”

The responsibility for being a father manifests itself in different ways.  My ‘Aha Moment’ came when Parker was about three.  We were going somewhere and it was cold.  I put on a jacket over a hooded sweatshirt.  I let the hood hang out the back.  I put on heavy gloves and a baseball cap with the bill bent just right.  There was a ruckus upstairs.  Parker took his room apart to find the right sweatshirt.  He came down stairs, put on his jacket and gloves and bent the bill on his ball cap just right.  The moment was profound, but his desire to use me as a fashion example faded quickly.

Guys . . . here’s a secret that us dads don’t usually talk about.  You aren’t going to have the first clue what you are doing and just when you get the hang of fathering an infant, he or she will  become a toddler and the rules change . . . then the twos . . . God help you . . . then the preschool years . . .  God help you more.  Preschool years are interesting.  The person who coined the phrase ‘Terrible Twos’ did so because they did not yet have a four year old.  The point is that for the rest of your life you will be making fatherhood up as you go.  Oh you will have the books your wife bought you and maybe a general strategy, but mostly you are winging it.  It’s ok . . . we all do it.

I know lot’s of good dads and they are all very different men.  My son’s best friend Dylan became a dad very young and he is a remarkable father.  It didn’t work out between him and his son’s mom, but he didn’t use that for an excuse to check out.  He and his son are inseparable and it is gorgeous to watch.  My brother Randal was a bit wild as a youngster, but he is a strong, wonderful father to my nephew and two nieces.   He just became a grandfather, so he is reaping the benefits all of us Dad’s work for.  My brother’s-in-law Chip and Dave are completely different men, but they are both successfully raising nieces for me.  Dave is still in the early stages with his year-old-daughter.  Chip has it rougher with his daughter . . . she is five and can talk back.  They also have it much rougher because they are raising daughters and that is a entire blog in itself.  These different men all have one thing in common.  They are all there for their children.  In my opinion, the only mistake outside of abuse a Dad can make is not being there.  So be there.

For me, the best part of being a Dad is being a kid’s hero.  I am lucky.  I got a second chance.  Just about the time most people are transitioning kids out of the house, I started over.  Charlie and Eli rewrite the fatherhood book every day.  I make sentences I never thought possible like “Don’t lick the dog”, “We don’t cook Mommy”, “Put your penis back in your pants” and “Take the Brussels sprouts out of your shoe.”  Regardless I am the hero.  I give them lunch and they sing my praises.  Making brownies or rebuilding a Lego results in abject worship and amazement.  It is good to be a hero.

As I write this, Eli and Charlie are playing chess.  Yeah .  .  . I know . . . really.  This is interesting because 10 minutes ago Eli Fisher was shrieking “Don’t breathe me!” at Charlie Kasparov.  Now they are all Ruy Lopez Opening and Alekhine Defense.  It’s all part of the ride.

That’s about all I have for you guys.  You have to do the rest.  Like I said, it’s all on you; you’ll be making this up as you go and that’s ok.  Don’t worry if you screw up, kids are fast healers and they are psychologically tougher than you think.  You’ll be fine.



Thanks for reading and we’ll be back soon on This Side of the Diaper.

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