I never knew my father. By definition, I am a bastard. It wasn’t something I ever judged my mom about. She did a fine enough job raising my sister and I as a single parent. I remember her working two jobs and kissing me on the forehead as I went to bed when at the same time she’d be walking out the door to work the graveyard shift. My mom told me the story about her showing me to my father for the first time, and how he didn’t say much before he shut the door on her face.
I was just used to being raised by strong women. My sister who was five years older than I was would make me breakfast and walk with me to school, holding my hand the whole way there and making sure I got to my classroom on time. When I was six we lived with my grandmother and she taught me how to tie a tie, fish off a dock, and all about righty-tighty, lefty-loosey. She also taught me something that always stuck with me.
Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone truly special to be a dad.
I don’t know if I understood the phrase at that time, standing there in my dirty overalls with a confused look on my pudgy face, but I do know that my grandmother taught me just as much, if not more, than any deadbeat dad could.
It was strange because even at a young age I remember thinking, “I’m going to be a great dad when I’m older.” There was such a desire in me to be that which I knew not of. I knew I wanted to be that kind of dad that picked up his kids with his best friend and took them to the ballpark, just for the heck of it. I wanted to be my son’s best friend, and my daughter’s protector. I wanted to be the dad that my own father missed out on being. It was going to be my way of “sticking it to him”.
So when my wife told me I was going to be a father for the first time, it was such a surreal moment for me. I ran up to her and she wrapped her arms around me and as we stood there holding each other tight, just like they do in the movies, I played out our life together. I was beyond thrilled, but when that moment passed, fear crept in almost immediately.
I know it’s cliche, but I literally thought “what if our child doesn’t like me?” Maybe it’s my own insecurities that played a role with this, but I felt like I wouldn’t be good enough to be a dad. I had, in fact, no example to look toward. I never knew what having a dad was like. I learned practical things from my grandmother, but what was I suppose to do with a child? It was new, frightening territory for myself.
And then we lost him.
My wife was ten weeks along. Six weeks ago we were passing a positive pregnancy test around the Christmas tree to tell everyone of the good news. It was hard to imagine that six weeks ago we were laughing and cheering.
“Missy is going to have a baby!” I remember my mother-in-law saying behind happy tears.
Missy was going to have a baby. It’s unreal how fast it can change–how fast something amazing can be handed to you, and then ripped away. Our doctor said it with hardly a choke, like it was routine. We were speechless. I held my wife’s hand steady as the OB resumed her scanning, not saying much and keeping her eyes on the screen and away from the tear-filled ones in the room. My mother-in-law kept her mouth covered with her hand, and my wife’s poor little sister stood in shock behind us. She was along for the happy ride to get a glimpse of her new nephew. It took her a while to come to appointments after that.
We heard things like numbers and “these things happen” and suddenly this world where everything wasn’t perfect opened up to us. We had a found a place where dreams of being a parent went to be crushed by ratios and percentages and studies. We were standing in a dead field with so many other young, naive couples who thought all it took was a decision and a fun night alone to reach the apparent miracle that is parenthood.
That image of myself and the dad I wanted to be disappeared. I was suddenly my own deadbeat dad, who had left me behind. Just as he turned his back on my mother holding myself as a fragile newborn at his doorstep, I did the same. I’ve changed my mind! He just shrugged, seeing her for the first time in eight months. Did he even look at me? I was scared, that’s all! He shut the door on us. I want to be a dad! I want my son! She carried me down the steps alone, holding me tight. I can do this! Just give me my son! I want to be a dad!
I want to be a dad…
And more than just a father–because anyone can do that. I want to be the dad whose son knows he can come to me for anything and never feel judged. I want to be the dad whose daughter knows I’ll love her more than any other boy capable of stealing her heart can.
And to be completely honest, I don’t think I felt that right away. It wasn’t until it was taken from me with figures and cliches that are meant to make you feel better, when I realized the life I want to live, the man I wanted to be, and the dad that came along with it.
That doesn’t make me a deadbeat dad. It makes me human. There’s a clear distinction between the man shutting the door on his newborn son and ex-girlfriend and myself: choices. The choices I made reflected who I really was, not my insecurities. Truth is, it wasn’t my doubt that caused my wife to miscarry our son. It took me a while to realize that.
I want so much to be a great dad, but I guess its something that doesn’t happen right away. Right now I need to be the man my wife needs me to be. I won’t say all the right things, or do all the right things at the right time, but just being there will make me a great husband.
And you don’t see many great husbands making deadbeat dads.