Some men learn by following a father’s example. And some men learn by not following a father’s example. I learned how to be a father by doing both.
|My Father-circa 1963|
“Now see the way this sofa is pushed up against the wall? It says doctor’s office waiting room. If we place it like so and cozy up these chairs then what we’ve got is an arrangement worth talking about!”
My father would stare at me speechless. But thinking about it now, he really didn’t have much to say to any of us. When he came home from work he would plow through dinner in five minutes, gulp down a glass of Scotch and smoke a pack of cigarettes. His quota of words was used during the work day.
“Son” My father would say and all of us would respond “Yes?”
“Get your Dad the newspaper.”
I soon learned that what he truly wanted was women, and lots of them. Something I couldn’t quite grasp. They were blonde, brunette, tall, short, shapely and slim. But there was always one on the side waiting to replace the current one. At my wedding there were two ex-wives, two ex-girlfriends and a current girlfriend on his arm. When I exchanged wedding vows I also vowed never to be like my father.
For twenty years I did what my father could not. I stayed married and never had an affair. Blessed with two daughters I lavished them with affection. It was all going according to plan. But as time wore on, my quota of words began to fill up. Until there was nothing left to say but "I’m gay". When my marriage ended I was broken, like my father.
I picked up the pieces and tried to reassemble them into something attractive. I attended a gay father’s support group and was picked up by a man at the first meeting. The fact that he collected vintage washing machines and proudly displayed them in his basement really should have alarmed me, but I decided to find it cute and quirky. The fact that he attended a gay father’s support group and was not actually a father? Fine by me. What really should have alarmed me was that I was too fucked up to interest even him for very long. It was over within a few weeks.
And then I met Paul. On our first date, he pulled out three perfectly crisp photographs of his children from his wallet and placed them on the table. I opened my wallet, flipped through old receipts, peeled the sticky photographs out and proudly displayed them. It was the first time all of our children would be together in one room. The second would be at our wedding.
The more time I spent with Paul the more I realized that he was the father I wanted to be: self-confident, loving, patient, funny and authoritative. Eventually, I became that father. It was no more evident than the day I received a text from my daughter “I want you to know that you are my hero. Sis and I have been talking and we both want to marry someone like you or Paul”.
This father’s day I’ll reflexively think about giving Dad a call and then remember, oh, he's gone. Deep down, I know he loved me. I just wish he could have learned what Paul taught me. In order to properly love your children, you have to love yourself.