“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” – Umberto Eco
Sunday, June 15th
Fatherhood – the one human experience I haven’t pulled apart with my rampantly over-analytical thoughts. And yet, as Eco puts it, it is the key relationship to the fiber of our being, made up of smaller seemingly insignificant moments.
I have made a collage of my fatherhoods. My godmother was the first person I called “Daddy” (she called out “Daddy’s home!” to me the fatherless child when she returned to the for apartment she shared with my mother). She had encouraged my mother to leave an abusive marriage and travel westwards with her to a new city and a new independent life. Within a couple years I was crawling under the arm of my Dad – the man who partnered with my Mom and stepped in to parent me. He gave me his welder’s cap and showed me how to make stone pavers. He brought me along to the woods to chop firewood and load it into the truck, teaching me about the forest world along the way. Slowly, I learned little smatters about my biological father through the odd story that my Mom would tell about him or through the choice of book that he decided to send me for Christmas. I would analyze his handwriting on the inside page of the book, and wonder why he chose “James and the Giant Peach” and not “Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang”. I didn’t know any other kids with two fathers, but it didn’t make me feel out of place. I had one present one and one absent one, so the equation balanced out to a perfectly normal and average household, dysfunctional in all the typical ways.
Once I became an adult, I started to look at fatherhood differently. My Dad could accept that I was physically moving out of the household but was in total denial that I was experimenting with sex, drugs, and…electronica. He had been talking to my much-older (step)brother casually about sex for years, and didn’t quite see the disconnect between how he discussed such matters with his daughter. He was trying to be my brother’s friend, but he was my vigilant protector. It pushed me to free-spiritedness but it is no surprise that I ended up marrying someone who is a rock – stable, practical, and very protective of his loved ones.
My other father taught me the value of being present and active in my children’s lives. He wasn’t, and has spent years trying to make it up to me for not being interested or involved in my upbringing. I appreciate the effort, but there is always a circuit that is not fully-connected emotionally for me. I can’t help it. It has everything to do with the bonding that happens in those early years and we missed out on that. I see him in my physicality and even in my mannerisms and temperment, but there is and always be a clear divide.
And so I am a very demanding woman of the men in my life. I have distilled my male relationships down to the critical few, and I rely on these men for strength, support, and presence to guide me forward. I give thanks to all my fathers and what they did to make me the woman that I am.
How do you regard your father(s)?
- Fatherhood, Psychology Today
- The Male Identity Crisis and the Decline of Fatherhood, Psychology Today