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Tuesday, July 22

Thoughts on Fathers

I did not have a father.

I'm not alone in this.

Whole generations have scars regarding the idea of "Dad".  Those lucky enough to have had that television-father have no idea what I'm talking about... but the rest of you do.

My personal story is that alcohol robbed me of my father.  Somewhere in my fourth year of life, my mother (with help from her family) left him.  Two years ago, my sister was doing some genealogy research and discovered that he had remarried somewhere down south and had another family, but had passed away from complications of alcohol abuse in 2010.

I have maybe 3 photos.  I know I look like him. 

One of the problems of growing up without a father, is that I don't know what one is supposed to do.  I don't know what to expect of my partner.  Not daily expectations; not long term expectations.  I suppose he should work, but when I envision my future I see myself being the major breadwinner.

Perhaps that's because I was raised by an amazing single mom.   My mother did it ALL.  She worked three jobs, cooked dinner, did the laundry, helped with history reports, took us to church, mowed the lawn, made homemade halloween costumes, and still managed to help us sell Girl Scout cookies on Sundays.

When I divorced my first partner, it didn't feel awkward to be a single parent.  That was my normal.  I remember having a rough year in 5th grade and the principal called me into his office to "chat" about what was going on in my life.  He talked endlessly about how much I must have missed my father, but I didn't follow.  I missed having a father like I missed have a third shoulder... I never knew what it was like to have one to begin with.

Being in a functional relationship is new territory for me.  I have these defense shield still intact and they can raise themselves at unexpected times.   Because it wasn't just a lack of "father", I had no real masculine presence at all during my childhood.  I had no uncles that I saw with any regularity, no older cousins.  My grandfathers had passed before I was even potty trained.  My mother dated, but there was never anyone of consequence and certainly none who had volunteered to step up as "Dad".  I remember one year being made to create a drawing for Father's Day at school.  I gave it to my mother's boyfriend at the time and he scoffed before throwing it out.

Men were not a part of my childhood and so when I became a teenager, I had no clue how to talk to boys.  Dating was torture.  I had my fair share of bad boyfriends who hurt me, took advantage of me, etc.  And then, of course, I went through a phase of wanting to "fix" my mother's mistakes by marrying a man exactly like my father.  That never ends well.

We separated within a year. 

Returning to the present day, I have the beautiful and warm Papa J in my life.  And I don't know what to do with him.  I don't know how much housework he is expected to do.  When it comes to disciplining and caring for the children, I don't know how stern is too stern.  I don't know how lazy is too lazy.  Some days I accuse him of micro-managing them.  Some days I accuse him of not engaging them enough.  And this man is so in love with me that he takes my tantrums in stride and stays by my side.  Totally new territory.

And, truly, I don't know what a dad should and should not do.

After Baby E was born, I actually asked around to make sure it was appropriate for my partner to bathe his daughter.

I just didn't know.

Not all of Papa J is smooth sailing in the fatherhood department.  He is a step-father to Doodle Bug and they have their 'moments'.  They fight a lot.  So, in turn, WE fight.  I will feel like he's being too strict or his tone sets off something in me and I go all 'mama bear'.  Or, he will feel like I'm being too lazy with the rules or that something is not appropriate for Doodle Bug to watch on tv.  The bickering weighs on our family.  They don't have a strong connection, trust and respect are lacking from both ends.  They're 5 years into the forging of this father-son thing and there are days where I just want to give up.   

Today we were given 2 free tickets to the movies and instead of turning it into a date-night for Papa J and I, I turned it into a bonding moment for them.  They are sitting through the latest Transformers (my son's obsession!) movie with a tub of popcorn. I hope they can make it for 3 hours without tiffing.

Their half-cocked relationship is a puzzle to me.  I never know if I should step in or if that's just how fathers are.  They are stiff around one another.  But, admittedly, so is Papa J with his own father.

Grand-Papa J lives on the other side of the country.  He and Papa J have only brief conversations on the phone every few weeks.  During visits, they don't speak much, but share a beer and stare at the television or listen while everyone else makes idle chit-chat around the patio table.  So, perhaps this stiffness is normal?

I wonder if that's just how boys are with their fathers.

Baby E is a completely different story.  Papa J melts for his baby girl.  They talk and play and swim... and I never know if it's because she's a girl... or because she's his. 

Although I've never had father or grandfather or anything like that, I have come to the conclusion that fathers and grandfathers are important.  I believe that they offer a contrasting view of the world (from mothers and grandmothers).  I am sad that I missed out on that, but glad that my children have the opportunity to learn and be guarded on all fronts.

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