Fatherhood is a journey that never ends.
Some fathers are born great; some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them, to steal a Shakesperian sentiment.
I believe I am a father of the last persuasion.
Fatherhood has always been a struggle for me. I remember my first daughter having a high fever a day or two after she came home from the maternity ward. Her mother and I called the hospital, thinking that we would be told to bring the child in immediately.
But to my alarm, they instructed us to place her in a sink filled with ice water, and I recalled looking at our small, vulnerable newborn thinking the professionals at the hospital were out of their minds to put such a burden on novices like us.
But her mother was up to the task, and so our young daughter came through OK.
Yet, the worry and uncertainty I had then about my fatherhood cred never really left me. It didn’t help that my children have, on several occasions, told me directly or implicitly that I was clueless about some particular trouble they were having.
I didn’t grow up with my father. I saw him on a few occasions, but not enough to remember anything distinctive about him, either in physical appearance or mannerism.
So, not having a father on which to model my behavior as a dad, I pushed things that I could vouch for, like education.
And through finding and maintaining jobs on my part and placing and strict rules of conduct on their part, I’ve tried to keep them safe and secure.
But jobs come and go at the whims of corporations, and your children’s safety is more of a community commitment than it is yours. You can only pray your community values your children as you do.
And I have come to know that while education has its place, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. If it were, we wouldn’t have so many educated people, either directly or indirectly, supporting the injustices that are running rampant in our nation.
That’s why Father’s Day salutations sometimes feel like I’m being recognized for something I’ve not done particularly well.
But if I have worth as a father, it’s because my children and their mother taught me about things that matter and are enduring.
They taught me about the necessity of birthday celebrations (of which I had none growing up) and the Tooth Fairy.
They taught me about having pets and treating them like family members–which introduced me to a kind of love I had not known before.
They taught me, in their interactions with their friends and classmates that prejudice is learned and not a matter of course.
I have told the stories of how my children forced me to take a bird, mauled by their beloved cat, to a rescue facility; and to rescue a baby rabbit from the jaws of a seemingly feral cat.
And I have found entertainment and inspiration in my children activities, like their movies–The Little Mermaid and Monsters Inc. comes to mind.
Yes, they have thrust fatherhood upon me, the extent to which I didn’t understand until Memorial Day, when a mother Robin with food in her bills caught my attention.
She had built her nest underneath my new deck and on which my family had gathered for a cook-out. She wanted to feed her hatchlings, but was being deterred by our presence.
I had troubles of my own that day that should have prevented me from worrying about a bird that had built her nest without permission on my deck.
I was sheltering in place. I was worried about my nephew, who came down with coronavirus at a Tyson meat plant in Iowa. I was working feverishly to stop the state from stiffing me of my duly deserved unemployment benefits.
I was worrying about my youngest not taking the virus seriously. I was finding it challenging to write in a digital dominated sensory environment.
But somehow, Mother Robin got through to me.
I guided my family off deck and had them stay inside for a while to allow her (It could have been the dad, because both brought food to the nest) to feed her hatchlings.
It’s no great thing to mention, really. It probably won’t change the world one way or the other. But it felt good that I responded to Mother Robin’s appeal to my humanity before my children did.
It meant they are making me a better dad than I could ever dream of being.