Father’s Day is fast approaching, and I have to admit that my attitude towards the holiday has changed quite a bit over time.
You see, I have never met my father, and to answer the common follow-up question right away, no, I have never wanted to either. He was not a good man, and not knowing him gave me a chance to be a better one.
I used to think of the holiday as more of a money saver than anything else. But my view of Father’s Day was too narrow and, in a way, unfair.
Just because the father is absent doesn’t mean that fatherly influence is.
When we learned we were expecting our first child, my excitement turned to fear pretty quickly. Then when I heard that a son will naturally father like his own dad, that fear turned to pure terror.
“Well, crap,” I thought, realizing that I had no obvious frame of reference on which to base my own fathering.
As I reflected deeper, though, I realized how lucky I really was and how little I had appreciated those many people who played myriad important roles in my life.
When there is a paternal void, whether in the form of a completely absent father or an emotionally absent one, a boy will look to those around his mother to fill that space. I don’t say this as a child-rearing expert, I say this as a boy who has been there and done just that.
I had a mother who worked extremely hard and did the daily double duty of mother and father, and she did it well. Not only did she pull double duty, she was wise enough to accept help from her family and surround herself (and, by extension, me) with good people for the times when she could not be there.
I was lucky to have had grandparents who were never far away, willingly stepping in whenever needed. In that pair, I had a grandfather who taught me what it means to provide for my family and what it means to be a man and a grandmother who worked equally as hard to teach me compassion. Their household also came with a host of uncles and aunts (and often great uncles and aunts) who helped give me the individual experiences that have made me who I am — from teaching me to drive a car to leaving me on the side of a mountain (long story, great result), from regaling me with stories from WWII to letting me help feed the cows.
Sometimes a fatherly influence will come from outside of the home, too. I have been camping and hunting with the father of one of my best childhood friends more than I have with anyone else. He didn’t have to take me, didn’t have to care, but he did, and I am a better father because of his example.
Even when I didn’t always recognize it, each of these people, in very specific and tangible ways, provided a piece that filled the “father” void in my life.
So on this Father’s Day, I say thank you.
Thank you to the mother who played double duty.
Thank you to the grandparents and family who were always there.
Thank you to the friend’s dad who said, “Sure, you can come along,” more often than not.
And thank you to all the fathers who extend their reach even when they don’t have to.
I thank you for making me the father I am today and for influencing countless other men to be better dads.
Chris Donnelly is a working dad with four children. You can read him every Thursday on momaha.com
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