I always dreamed of having a family. Somehow even as a kid, I knew I wanted to be a dad someday. This made no sense from a practical standpoint, because at the time I hardly knew how to take care of myself. And who was I—a kid who rarely bathed, often wore the same clothes for weeks, and never brushed or flossed—to think that I might actually one day be responsible enough to take care of another human being? But I must have been onto something because here I am many years later doing just that, or at least trying my darndest to keep my head above water as I perform my parental duties as best I can.
If you’re the kind of person who thinks we all have a predetermined path, a destiny, some sort of preordained mission in life, then I wouldn’t be one to argue with you. Because when I look back at my own path to fatherhood I realize that all the pieces seem to fit together. Safety Town Teacher. Camp Counselor. Referee. Gym Instructor. Coach. Third Grade Teacher. Music Educator. Tennis Pro. All of these, what I thought were unrelated passions and paths, have led me to my current employment as a father.
But nothing really prepares you for being a father, a parent. Nothing prepares you for the moment your child is born and you realize that your choices and decisions not only impact yourself, but this new life you’ve brought into the world. And when you add in the fact that men are wired to be protectors and providers, and that I take that job very seriously, the words terrifying, exhilarating, and overwhelmed only begin to scratch the surface of the emotions I feel every day.
I guess I learned the “tools of the trade” from my own father. Although, he never actually taught me anything; it was more a matter of observation and osmosis.
He did much of his fathering from the dining room. This was his domain. And when I say domain, I mean all of the tools he used to take care of his family were packed into that small 10 x 12 room, functioning as a sort of ad hoc control room. Because I definitely got the sense he felt like an outsider in the many circles he traveled in: at the college he taught at, hanging with other couples in town, at school functions, and visiting my mother’s family. Nothing he told me outright, just pieces of conversation I’d overhear between my mother and father. But that dining room, well, that was just his place. It was where he belonged, and where he felt comfortable to carry out his duty as a father, a place where he could stretch his tentacles out into the world, and at the same time be tucked safely away.
The room was dominated by a large hand-carved dining room table, a beautiful piece of furniture and a great space for my father to spread out his things, but still keep them in one place. In addition there were two antique tables against opposite walls that he claimed for his many possessions. These tables were filled with piles of papers, stacks of business cards, photos of his kids, handfuls of change, pens and pencils, a stapler, calculator, and various keepsakes. He also displayed the wise words of Confucius on every available surface he could find. Let me explain……….