On the show this week I had said I was going to do my blog post on a book by Toni Morrison that my Grandma had asked me to read. I changed my mind. Not because of the book, because it was pretty alright, but because my mind has been consumed with the incoming arrival of Dax in all arenas. Offie and I talked in the intro of this weeks’ show about part of what has been on my mind and I decided I would expand on that instead so that this isn’t just a forced piece of writing.
Without harping on it too much or trying to make myself sound special, growing up without a father is something that affected me in many ways as a child and continues to affect me today. When I look back on it now, I don’t think I realized how much it affected me when I was a child. My parents were divorced when I was 2, and I think I was 5 when he moved from Washington to Oregon and then eventually to Arizona where he lives now. I have some memories from when he lived here, getting ice cream in his big blue truck, him working on his big blue truck, him helping us move into our house on Quinault, one fight between him and my Mom, and then my next memories are from visiting him in Arizona.
I think I was 7 or 8 the first time my sister and I went to visit my Dad, and I was either 9 or 10 the first time I went by myself because my Sister had begun to learn of the skeletons in my Dads closet that I was too young to be told about. So I continued to visit my father by myself until I learned those same secrets. I can’t honestly say I learned much in the times I DID visit. I wasn’t really into sports when I was a kid but not because of my Dad not being around and I can’t honestly attest to whether or not he would have made me if he was around so that wasn’t a traditional aspect I missed out on, but I did feel it early.
There are the more traditional male things that I missed out on like being shown how to properly do yard work, learning how to work on cars or use power tools, maybe being shown guns and made more comfortable around them. I don’t like to focus on this too much because I honestly don’t know my Dad well enough to know if he would have taught me these things if he WAS around. But if he IS into those things, I could maybe have been made comfortable with them sooner or been exposed to them in a safer environment than I was.
This may be totally unconnected but to this day I am apprehensive but eventually comfortable using big power saws and tools. This first gun I saw was one shown to be by someone I will not disclose, but the gun was not registered to them and had been used in a crime. Someone had to show me how to change a tire the first time mine went flat when I was 18. The things I know about cars are limited to the things I have had to fix on my own. I did yard work poorly for years because I was just told to do it and not generally given instructions, because the women in my house didn’t want to do that.
Outside of these are the things that people may not think about or could possibly take for granted. There is a healthy list of things that were decided to be my responsibility when I was growing up “Because you have a penis” and that is a quote directly from my mother. That didn’t make sense at the time, and felt like an excuse for me to do something none of the women in my house wanted to. There are all kinds of things NOW I won’t let my wife do because I feel they are my job as a male: picking up dead animal gifts left by our cats, picking up cat or dog vomit in the house, mowing the yard, washing the cars, etc… It took me years of this being explained to me by OTHER peoples fathers that there are just somethings that you are supposed to do for your wife and the women you love, but without it being presented in the right way and by the right person, it doesn’t make the impression it should.
I now understand that these things, these responsibilities of a man, CAN be learned from a woman and can even be better learned that way. But it takes the maturity and objectivity of a grown person, that which a child is not old or experienced enough to comprehend, to understand and be able to see the difference that I was not. That even though my mother and I communicate in vastly different ways and that what she was saying to me WAS that these things are things a man should do and I would eventually have to do for my wife, I just didn’t perceive it that way. I was not able to separate the person telling me with the information I was receiving.
Hard as it was to deal with learning to be a man without what I perceived as anyone to teach me to be a man, as I said I am now able to look back at my upbringing with my Sister, Mother, and Grandmother and see the valuable lessons I was able to learn. Easiest to remember and probably guess, I always felt incredibly comfortable around women. From family to strangers to girls that I had feelings for, I never had or really even understood the problems other boys my age had with talking to girls they liked. It was always first nature to me to speak the same “language” that the teenage girls I was courting did. I was open and honest with how I felt and unafraid to show my feelings (which was actually a very convenient cover for not being able to CONTROL my feelings). This coupled with my large stature and natural gift with words is largely how I got my beautiful wife.
On top of this I was around to hear the stories from my Sister, Mom and Grandmother of their boyfriends, husbands and ex husbands and the grave mistakes and missteps they had made, but also of the things they loved the most and would never forget. I can promise you I learned more from the bad stories than the good. And the older I get, the more boyfriends my sister has and the more stories I hear from my Mom about my Dad, or from my Grandma about the incredible man that my Grandpa was and how proud he would be of me for who I have become and who I have been able to shape myself into.
There is no doubt, as I told Colin this week on the show, that if my Dad or Grandpa were around my life would be drastically different. Shaping my image of what I think a man should be or the man I want to be may or may not have been easier, that I can’t know for sure. Learning some of the skills I am learning now, or the skills I WANTED to learn may have been easier. That I can’t know for sure. What I DO know for sure is that everyday, the confidence I have in my ability to be a strong father to Dax grows. The doubt and hesitation I felt when the discussions of fatherhood began, are largely mitigated.
While I see extreme value in the presence of a steady father in the raising of a child, I recognize now that in that lack of such father, it is simply necessary for the correct roles, responsibilities, and skills to be imprinted on a young man in a way that they can be recalled when proper growth and maturity has been reached. It is vital that the child be raised with the understanding of what being a strong man, husband, and father means and for that, a father is not always required.