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.”
I awoke this morning knowing that my life would be different evermore.
I was a staff photographer at a hospital for many years with an on-site daycare. I brought my children, first my son, then my daughter, with me to work everyday and dropped them off. And with the convenience of working in a hospital with their pediatrician also being there, any doctor visits were taken care of easily.
When life changed and I became a self-employed photographer, aka “freelancer”, both my children were in either elementary or middle school. During this time I drove them to school in the morning and many times picked them up in the afternoon (depending on jobs). For my son, he graduated high school in 2008 so we parted company then but I continued driving my daughter. During my time with the both of them I could be a royal pain as I was “the happy guy” while they were miserable. A funny moment happened when it was the start of a new school year, and as we rode in the car I commented, “I’ve seen happier faces on corpses.” They actually laughed. Other moments would concern morning traffic. The schools were very close to home, but delays at stop signs were inevitable. I would complain that “the satellites are watching me! There was no traffic a minute ago, but now they’re making me stop!” On one occasion I also drove my son’s friend and when he heard me talk about “the satellites” he told Jason, “Your Dad’s nuts!” I couldn’t stop laughing when Jason told me that.
For the past 5 years it’s just been my daughter and I. I still made jokes but she tended to ignore me more than my son. She also tended to “use” me more than him. When she forgot something, she’d text me asking me to bring whatever she needed. She had a 6th sense knowing when she could forget or would need something on a day that I didn’t have a job. I’d moan about it, but would always drop it off telling the secretary that I was the butler.
This all changed yesterday. My daughter graduated high school. My work as chauffeur to my children has officially ended. When September arrives both of my children will be off in college. My son will be in final year and my daughter will be starting. When I get up in the morning, I will only have myself. I am no longer the alarm clock to their day. This has really been the best time of my life. I really don’t want to let it go.
The photograph above was taken a long time ago at the Jersey Shore.
This is how I will always think of them.
What a father sees.
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.