This blurry pic, a copy of a copy, is my father holding my son. You cannot see it from this cropped copy but they are sitting on the floor.
This is for the dads, I see you.
Recently at wedding of two friends it hit me. I’m past the feeling of broken-heart-ache when I see tiny babies. For nearly a decade each time I saw a newborn I’d practically lactate with longing for just one more child. My body kept telling me it needed another baby—even after two miscarriages, three unbelievable and healthy children, an exquisite step daughter, (who is now twenty-five, but only five when we met.)
and yet my body kept crying for more.
At this wedding I noticed for the first time I was no longer at risk for snatching someone’s infant from them, out of a need to smell that baby’s goodness.
I tried holding a baby that night and my mother magic was gone. I couldn’t console that child and I think that he read my fear.
This is for the dads who are afraid.
Petrified and yet cannot admit it, dads who take off work to “babysit” their own kids. But guiltily, if they’re honest, would rather go to a movie, or for a motorcycle ride or make music or read a book. Don’t feel bad, you are taking time off work for your kids. My dad never did that.
This is for the dads that shuffle meekly behind harried young mothers while they nurse. Somehow showing solidarity? I don’t quite understand it. For the dads that never quite do it right—the bottles, the diapers, the comforting. You should understand that moms don’t mean to make you feel incompetent.
I sensed your fear, even pain, holding a baby that I could not console. That I didn’t quite have it anymore.
Suddenly I felt weak, un-mothering, broken. Something inside me hurt—but more than for my lost ability to have babies, I was aware of all the Dads in the room. All the dads who perhaps feel like they don’t quite ever measure up.
This is for the dads who trudge off to work to earn an income for a family when they’d rather be making music, or writing poems, or doing whatever men do in “man caves.” While their wives have ten year nervous breakdowns, while sitting at the pool and don’t even manage to have a meal cooked at 5 pm or throw a load of laundry in.
This is for the dads who never criticize.
This for the dads who are fair and good, “egalitarian”—mindful of their partner’s thoughts, and tears, and breakdowns, when what they really want is dinner and maybe if they’re lucky sex.
My dad, he worked.
Came home and kicked us all around. He didn’t listen to my mother— no matter how he pretended. She couldn’t debate him, not about big or little things. She was never quite good enough. When she asked for help, he told her to be stronger.
As for me, I shuffled in the background trying not to be seen. I lost myself. I lost perspective of my own center, that I was a human being who deserved (just as much as him) to have opinions, emotions, and take up space in the room.
I stopped breathing.
I’m a forty-six year Old Woman who was never a child. I’m not saying it’s my father’s fault entirely, but this is to all the dads who need to know. You matter to your kids and your partner—You have power.
You can break your children. Or help them grow up into people of compassion and empathy.
You may “only” bring home the paycheck; causing your kids to think somehow you don’t care as much as mommy.
This is what I say to you Dads—Don’t buy into the bullshit of being less compassionate. There is a type of empathy that all people have and God and nature intended. It is not exclusive to women. It’s not exclusive to mothers. You may do it differently, but we need you.
This is for all the dad’s that need to know, it’s okay to let go of macho and give more hugs. To work less and BE more. To change the diaper differently than your wife. To cook dinner and throw in a load of laundry, listening all the while to your hapless sad wife.
This if for all the dads, no matter what the culture says, that step in the door of your home at the end of the day and get down on the floor—your kids need to know you. Stop rushing. Say no once in a while to external things.
This is for all the dads. I see you.
At the end of his life, in the last months when my father was pretty sure he was dying (though he was holding out for a miracle) my Dad admitted to me this stunning truth. That his “incompetence” as a father caused his anger and raging, his disapproval, his meanness, his perfectionist expectations; they all came from feeling like he didn’t know how to be a good dad. (Here’s a poem I wrote not long after his death titled: Good Dad, Bad Dad.)
When we were very young he stopped trying.
What a tragedy. It’s too late for me and my dad, but it’s not too late for you.
This is dedicated to Tom.