When my wife was pregnant with our son, we were approached at a doctor’s appointment by an older woman, innocently, about how long we had until we were due. My wife and I sat in the waiting area, our son incubated (un)comfortably in her tummy-lap. We were down to those once-per-week appointments and were getting closer to the inevitability of fatherhood and motherhood…parenthood, they call it…the first time for the both of us.
We vacillated between excitement and anxiety, confidence and dread. We wore those passions like jackets, so the layers had to have been visibly noticeable.
Out of nowhere in the conversation lull, the lady asked me something I won’t easily forget.
“What kind of father do you want to be?”
It struck me as a different question, not odd, but not one I had been asked before. Without missing a beat, I responded, “Active.” She seemed pleased; my wife beamed and rubbed her tummy. I’m not sure if it was the politically-correct answer, but it came from a deep place.
Deeper than I realized that moment more than four years ago.
In relation to fatherhood, I don’t necessarily see a mental picture; instead, I see fatherhood as an individual state of mind, and not a physical thing. This comes from my endurance as a child, then a teenager and young adult, raised in what is perceived as a violent area of Illinois with and without my father. I have happier memories of my father and “child me,” like that of going to work with him and seeing how great he carried himself on his bus routes and all of the adventures we had on the road.
Then, there’s a period in my life where the memories with him just…stop. In retrospect, a child usually goes through some time thinking that stark changes are because of something they have done because they don’t know the ways of the world and what’s what. Like most children who endured a period, or a lifetime, of a physically-absent father, I just went along with everything because I didn’t know anything.
With age bred knowledge, then a strange sort of apathy.
I saw situations for what they were a bit better than everyone else did because I adapted. I think this is also because I didn’t miss what I didn’t see. I wasn’t around when my siblings were little; my next-closest sibling is nine years older than me. Up to the point of around my senior year of high school, I probably played in 200 basketball games and had all types of positives going on.
My father wasn’t there.
His unavailability was lower than a “thing,” the furthest from my mind like atoms in the air. It didn’t occur to me to care.
I wasn’t expecting and hadn’t been for a long time. My interactions with my father consisted of the fact that he went to work, and he gave me rides to school. On the weekends, he’d be where he was at; I would probably see him an hour a day. That was that. If you get that regimen for years, you gain another understanding of the phrase, “It is what it is.” I did what I did without any type of questioning or involvement. I didn’t hear him ask, “How’s school?” No, “How’re things with you?”
My dad was just a silent ride to school. Actively inactive. Unfortunately, soon absent.
In my early twenties, I decided not to worry about it. I had to focus on me and my declining health. That was the most critical time when I could have used his guidance and his strength, but I constructively resolved that I couldn’t dwell on the “what if.” I had my ideas at that point as to how I wanted to “be.”
My father was in jail anyway. What could I do?
I now structure my life around the motions of my children.
And I know that there’s no time limit on being a parent.
As an adult, I have a father, but I don’t have a father. I don’t know exactly what was the cause of this because I actually had a willing provider. I know I would have been worse off not knowing him. I acknowledge that I always had a roof over my head and the lights stayed on, so I know he did something.
It’s the intangible stuff that I’m missing.
I’m not ungrateful. There’s just a lot of life that’s lacking between us that my brothers and sisters probably received because their childhoods were a better time period for him. It would have been much worse completely without him.
I have to believe that.
Being an “active” father is a deliberate decision because there are so many factors associated with the intention. Two of the countless intricacies involve knowing a child and revealing a true self to that child. Sharing experiences, ideas, fears, strengths, love, pain, and happiness entail enough convoluted emotions by themselves that the delicacy of being fully present holds that much more universal significance.
Time doesn’t wait. You’re a parent for the duration of your life. That’s what I want to make sure that my children, Jrue and Jai, will always know…that they can count on me for the rest of it all.
Right now, I have a major empty void at 37 years old that I shouldn’t necessarily have. There’s no explanation here for it; there’s no viable reasoning.