My daughter gave me 3 rubber chickens for Christmas. She individually gift-wrapped each one putting it in a box inside a larger box put inside an even larger box. (I’ve put a wrapped gift inside only one larger box.) I had a hint she was going to do something, so I upped my game. When she unwrapped her “special” gift, she found a note. It said, “Your gift is hidden somewhere in the house.”
On July 14, 1989 I became a father. (My first, real, Father’s Day.) I didn’t know it at the time, but I had set sail on the happiest journey of my life.
My mom raised me. My parents were married, but it was a bad marriage, so I didn’t have a Dad. When I became one, I was never nervous, worried, insecure or any other negative emotion. I was absolutely confident in my ability to be a Dad. I wasn’t cocky. I simply knew to give my son (and daughter, born January 13, 1995) what I didn’t have. A real Dad. It was that simple for me.
How do I define “a real Dad”? Someone who takes care of their children. Period. Whatever needs to get done, you do it. There are no gender specific job duties. Diapers? Change them. Time to eat? Feed them. Doctor’s appointment? Take them. And on and on and on. (For the record, there is one thing I cannot do – cleanup vomit. It’s my personal kryptonite.)
There are gender differences in how we raise our children. The theory goes, Mothers tend to be more nurturing. Fathers tend to tell their children to “Go for it!” Some will discount that theory, but there ARE going to be gender differences. How can there NOT be? There are also our individual talents. My wife and I employ those different, non-gender, talents in raising our children. When she says, “Go ask your Dad,” or I say the reverse, it isn’t to shirk any responsibility, it’s because the other parent is simply better in those specific situations.
Getting back to those “job duties”, I took my children to daycare. It was onsite at my job at a hospital. It also made “visits to the doctor” very easy. I’d do it during work hours. Would I really hand that job over to my wife because it’s a “mother’s job”? I’m pragmatic, not an idiot.
I’ve always done the food shopping. Being raised by just my Mom, I had to go with her. Then when I got my driver’s license, I drove to the supermarket. That routine has stayed with me. When my children were old enough, they tagged along.
For them, growing up meant that if they asked me to do something and I said “yes”, they knew that I meant it. Questions would concern going to the movies, sleepovers, school sports, vacation, whatever. I wanted them to always trust what I would say. As a Dad I knew not to promise what I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) deliver. There are drawbacks to that approach. For years my son kept asking me to take him to San Francisco. I didn’t want to say “no” and wouldn’t say “yes” to appease him. (We did go.) He also wanted to go to London because my wife and I been there. (We went.) He also asked me to take him to Japan. I told him he’s on his own with that one.
In 1990 I started the tradition of reading, and videotaping, “Twas the Night before Christmas” on Christmas Eve. Several years ago when my son was around 23 years old and on a date, he said, “Don’t worry Dad, I’ll be home in time.” Yes, we’re still doing it.
I’ve mentioned my son, but everything above also applies to my daughter. In 1999, because my wife had a job change and couldn’t go on vacation, I went on a Father/Son trip. He was 10 at the time. My daughter was 4. She remembered that and demanded, when she was older, that she’d have a Father/Daughter one. (We did.) Now that my son is (almost) 26 and doesn’t want to go on our family vacations anymore (I agree with his reasoning), I told my daughter, “Well I guess it’s just Mom and me now.” Her answer? “Heck no. You’re not cheating me. I’ve got several more years of going with you.”
As a photographer, I’ve taken “zillions” of photos. I’ve also videotaped a lot. (I recommend that for any parent. My “adult” kids love looking at the photos and videos.)
Naturally not every day was fun. Illnesses, arguments, fights and tantrums are all part of the equation of being a Dad, but there are 3 quotes that answer all questions –
1) “I want to be a Dad just like my Dad,” my son said, when he was around 12.
2) “I love you,” texted my daughter yesterday for no particular reason.
3) And, at my son’s college graduation family dinner I said to him (and this applies to my daughter), “I am very proud of you. You keep me on my toes. I’m always questioning the validity of my advice. And you’ve made my life perfect.”
In a time long forgotten, that’s a polaroid photo of me on the left. (Yes, it’s a polaroid.) I’m wearing my Civil War jacket, pants, hat and holding a toy rifle. For reasons unknown, my Mom never discarded the jacket part of the outfit. And for more reasons unknown, neither did I. So when my son was born I thought, “Someday when he’s around 8 or 9 years old (my approximate age in the photo), I’m going to have him wear my Civil War jacket and take a picture.” Father & son. Side by side.
Parents have a much more difficult time raising their children today. The basic questions of “how’ya doing in school?” and telling them “don’t go getting into trouble!” have to be expanded on in this day and age. I recently told my son, “Being a pirate is not a job choice even in this slow economy!” (I would like to pillage though.)
My childhood and teenage years were spent growing up in an Italian-American neighborhood. And when I say “Italian-American” I mean the immigrants who found the courage to move thousands of miles, to leave their homes and everything they knew, to relocate and rebuild their lives in a foreign country. I know that I wouldn’t have the courage to do that.
One afternoon, sometime last year, I was invited over a friend’s home to sit back, relax and view some slides his Dad had taken decades ago. My friend’s father was an avid photographer. He shot parades, the New York City skyline, aerial views from a airplane, Christmas time at home and on and on. It was fun to view slides of my hometown – Paterson, NJ. I never knew that Captain Video appeared in a parade on Main St. It was a little bit of history for me.
Then we came to the photograph above. As I viewed the image, my heart raced with excitement. I felt like I had discovered a hidden treasure. That I had found an old toy of mine that I loved. Or my Mother had never really thrown old all my old Superman comics. Here was a photograph of a grandfather with his grandson on his lap and teaching him how to smoke a cigarette. The only words out of my mouth, “I gotta have a copy of this.” Forget playing ball with your grandson. Never mind about taking him to the movies. Don’t even worry about how he’s doing in school. The only sure sign of a great granddad/grandson relationship is if he teaches you how to smoke. And, of course, if he buys you the cigarettes too.
(Image used with permission.)