The truth about fathers is that anyone can technically be one if they are able to produce sperm.
“Fathering” a child in the legal sense means, “Are you the biological father?” The term reveals nothing about what a good father is. I think that “fathering” a child should include raising that child, nurturing them with love, care, emotional sensitivity, and gentleness. It should include listening to your child’s hopes and dreams and fears and hurts. It should mean being there. I see these good fathers all the time, and it never fails to warm my heart and make me feel good about the world.
A few days ago I discovered that my own father had died five days earlier. By the time I received the text — yes, I was texted about his death — his funeral had just occurred an hour earlier. His body was lowered into the frozen North Carolina dirt while I was warm inside my cozy office at work, oblivious to one of the more important events in a person’s life.
No one called me to tell me he had cancer. I received no letters from him, no calls — although his widow later told me he could only whisper after the chemo. But none of his inner circle contacted me. His obituary listed none of his four children.
I’d called him 2 ½ years ago to tell him something pretty important and devastating in my own life and had never heard from him again. I let the connection, as weak as it was to begin with, fade. I was tired of being the only one trying. I put the invitation to my heart in the mail to him, and he failed to show up to that party over and over. I think I saw the man maybe six times in my entire life.
Being a father means trying to connect with your child. It means earning the emotional currency you want to spend in their life. It means sharing your life, your mind, and your heart with them, and it means sharing your hopes and dreams for them.
The truth about fathers is that there are many wonderful ones, but there are also many disappointing ones. The pain that an absent or neglectful father leaves in the lives of their children is a lifelong one. Sure, it can scab over, but every now and then something picks at it and opens up the wound again. That was what happened to me when I received that text.
The truth about fathers is that none of them are perfect. I never expected perfection. I just wanted some consistent effort. The few times we met, he was fun to be around but very irresponsible and immature. It led to me having to put the distance back between us. Now he’s gone forever, and I’ll never get the effort from him that I desired. I tried and tried and finally gave up 2 ½ years ago. And then he died. My kids will never get to meet him, and maybe it’s for the best. One generation of disappointment is enough.
The truth about fathers is that blood doesn’t have anything to do with being one. The men who are there for you as a child become like your fathers. Like most things in life, the truth about fathers is that most of the work is just showing up.