June 11, 2013
Beautiful things can break my heart. And they are everywhere. Impossible to avoid. A father crouching down and tying the hood on his daughter’s winter jacket. A child sitting on her father’s shoulders, fingers grasped in his hair, holding tightly. A little boy, sitting in a shopping cart, tossing groceries to his father in the checkout line, as his father calls out in encouragement. Saying to my father on the phone, “I love you, too,” and worrying that my children can hear me and wondering if it makes their own father’s absence more acute.
There are a lot of good fathers in the town where I live. I know, things are not always as they seem, but really, there are a lot of men here who clearly love their children, who show up for them, who take pride in being a good dad. My children’s father is not one of them. If you were to ask him, accuse him even, he would say that he texts them all the time. The truth is that months can go by without my children hearing from him. The truth is that years can go by without them seeing him even though he lives about 4 miles away.
My friends tell me that my children are lucky to have me, that I am a great mom, but I worry. I want to be twice as good, but twice as good does not make up for a father’s absence, and I’m not even half as good a parent as I wish I could be. I’m tired. It’s exhausting being the only parent of three teenagers. I wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, worried about mistakes I’ve made, the things I’ve neglected to teach my children, and despairing of the father I chose for them.
There is a moment I think of often. My son, about 13 at the time, had been sporting a shadow above his lip for several months, and had been asking when he could start shaving. I was aware that this was supposed to be one of those hallmark moments between father and son, when father teaches his son to shave. At that time, like most times, my children’s father was out of the picture. And so, I bought my son a razor and some shaving cream. We stood side by side in front of the bathroom mirror, and I watched him cover his upper lip with shaving cream and drag the razor through it. As he shaved, I unconsciously drew down my upper lip, as if I were shaving too. I tried to give him advice, but really, I didn’t know if he was supposed to shave up or down or across. We muddled through it and at the end, I took the razor from him and carefully went over a spot he had missed. We stood together in front of that mirror and looked at our reflections and at each other and I think we were both a little proud and a little relieved. My son didn’t need his dad to learn how to shave. It would have been nice, but it was okay because he had me. I doubt my son thinks of this moment often, as I do. For me, it is is incredibly poignant. Painful and beautiful.
So to the dads who are there for their children, I wish you a very Happy Father’s Day. You matter. The love you give your children makes a difference in their lives. And to the moms who try to fill the empty space left behind by a missing father, I wish us strength and encouragement.