What makes a Dad?

With Father’s Day fast approaching, I reflected on how I came to be in that category, and the factors that shaped me into that role. There’s a reason children don’t come with instruction manuals, while some may be similar, no two are exactly alike. As such, the ability and skills to be a parent differ widely with every child, and while there is an almost endless list of texts and “experts” on the subject, in most cases we learn as we go.

Years ago, I accepted a request by my local church bishop to teach young children basic Sunday school lessons. While I assured him I was woefully unqualified to do so, he calmly informed me the children would teach me all I needed to know. At first I considered this strange advice, but I soon realized that teaching was as much about trying to connect with the class as it was the chosen subject matter.

There is an oft repeated old saying that goes something like, “Any man can be a father but it takes a special person to be a Dad.” There has seldom been more truth captured in a single sentence, and we need not look far in today’s society to find plentiful examples of both with many levels in between.

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I think most fathers want to believe they’ve been good to their children, but only their children know the impressions they leave behind.

I have to give my father credit for teaching me a great deal about life in general and the importance of good work ethics. He dealt out a generous amount of tough love, and although he was difficult to deal with on many occasions, there were always those quiet, open moments when he confessed the things that mattered most.

Maybe I got a few more of those moments than my older siblings as time and disease crumbled away his last few years of life.

I was only nineteen when he passed away, but he left indelible impressions on my soul. For better or worse, he was my Dad.

Yet among all those lessons and memories, how much of it prepared me to be a father myself? Those are hard questions to answer but there must have been some effect, even on a subconscious level. But this much is certain, my children have been the biggest contributors to making me who I have become. Only they can truly judge my success or failure as a father, and I owe them immense appreciation for every element they added to my life.

So now, I would like to spotlight each of them for simply be2012-12 dec 25 christmas-50ing who they are.

 

 

 

 

Michelle

I call her, “Missy,” and she calls me, “Daddy.”

She is my firstborn, and the core of the single most vivid memory I have of parenthood.

I was dressed in one of those silly yellow paper gowns when the nurse laid her into my arms, and in that moment I knew my life was forever changed. It was no longer just me, I was from this point onward a father, and my goals and priorities now included this tiny person who was dependent upon me.

I held her in my arms that day, and many years later I gave her away to a young man she loved, but in my heart I still hold her close.

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Today, she is the mother of my first grandchild, and I see so much of her in that darling child with each passing day. I know she has done for Missy what she did for me, and that is a priceless gift that can never be replaced.

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Missy and I have shared many interests and moments over the years, and from her childhood days to her time as a wife and mother, she has taught me the value of heart and emotion, the importance of expression, and the assurance that the best gifts are the kind not bought, but given with pure intent.

She stood by me through some of my darkest times and helped shape the life I live today. Without that kind of support, my world could be a very different place, but when its your child that believes in you, great things are possible.

Thank you, Missy, for making me a Daddy.

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Joshua

I call him, “Bubba, Hot Rod, Killer, Joshman,” and many other terms of male endearment, and he simply calls me, “Dad.”

He is my one and only son, my flesh and blood, and I’ve never met anyone who wants so fervently to be a hero. Such heart and strength of will are forged like steel, with fire, the force of the hammer, and the unyielding resistance of the anvil.

Sometimes I believe it is the pure will of God Himself that fathers should contend with their sons, and history is replete with examples of such struggles. But just like the blacksmith that shapes the sword, the steel speaks to him, and his use of the fire and the hammer are ultimately designed to hone the steel into something stronger and more powerful. The blows can be both light and fierce, but in the end, the craftsman holds his creation with reverent pride, knowing he gave all his talent and knowledge to make it the finest and best his hands could produce.

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Raising a son like mine was filled with challenges, but we met each head on, and while sparks often flew there were also many times we played as hard as we fought. Like my Sunday school class, the effort was trying to connect, and the rules for that game changed almost daily. At times it was frustrating, but the times when it worked gave you the spirit to never give up. It was almost as though I was being tested each day to prove my worthiness, like a king and his promising upstart training and teaching each other to groom him for the path ahead. The work is hard and tense, but the glimmers of progress are rewards in themselves.

Josh and I are divergent in many ways, but in those places we connect, we make the most of the common ground. Josh has been my single greatest teacher in dealing with the unexpected, learning to adapt, and realizing that different directions are not bad things.

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His strength of will and rigid sense of right and wrong have always impressed me, even if we didn’t agree, and I know as life wears him down it will only make him sharper. The time will come when he will step into my role as a parent, and I have every faith the fire that made him will ultimately serve him well. I believe he will lead by strong example, and his experience will temper the metal of the hero he has always wanted to be.

Thank you, Josh, for making me a Dad.

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Arlie

I call her, “Arlie, Cutie, or Kiddo,” and she calls me, “Timmy.”

 

I fell in love with her Mommy and stepped into a small world that had been a private one for most of her life. Arlie broke the ice between us like throwing bricks through glass windows, and I quickly learned when to duck and when to catch. Being a potential step-parent is not always a welcomed idea, and this certainly looked that way, but behind the outward rage I could see something else, something wounded and guarded, yet daring.42702 010 1 4x6

The hardest thing about step-relationships is the absence of history. You didn’t start off together, you miss the growing experience of each other, and the shadows of different people can block your way. Finding a path through this maze is fraught with peril as loyalties to those they know well always trump the fledgling relationship.

Trust is hard earned and comes in uneasy pieces, like a bridge made of random stones that will never fit like smooth bricks.

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She taught me the stark difference between being a father, a father figure, and a close friend. The most important of which was to throw the roles out the window and learn to flow with what the given situation demanded.

There are no comparisons to be made between others because all that mattered was the two of us and what was needed to make that work. My primary task was to love and care for her mother, given she was the most important constant in Arlie’s world.

Thankfully, that hasn’t been a problem since my wife has fully encouraged my efforts, but even that couldn’t smooth the emotional wringer we put each other through.

 

Starting in younger childhood years has its own set of challenges, but we kicked off pretty much as adults with all the hills and valleys that entails. Getting past the walls and defenses we put up can be slow and painful, but when we eventually open doors, even a little at a time, what we finally reveal inside can be fragile, but also kind and beautiful.

The strange part is how wonderfully in sync we are in certain areas while others are polar opposites, but that has been an education in itself. It can be difficult to be strongly at odds with another person yet still find it within yourself to accept those traits, lose the expectation of it ever changing, and still hold them dear to your heart.

The bond between a parent and a child can be the most powerful thing on Earth, but with a step-relationship that bond must be meticulously constructed and cared for like a prized friendship. It has the potential to be as strong as any created by blood, and in some ways stronger because both gave of themselves to make it happen. Both people had a need or want to fill, even if they didn’t recognize it at first and if they manage to cement the strand together there is little that can tear it apart, even among family.

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Arlie has taught me it is possible to let someone into your life you didn’t foresee coming, and grow to love them in ways you didn’t know were ever there within you. It is treasure of unexpected wealth, and while different from others that came before, is still valuable beyond compare. The task of finding that connection wasn’t easy, but the sacrifices in heart and tears from both sides created something wonderfully unique, and one I believe will stand the test of time. I hope so at least, because she has become more a part of me than I ever thought possible.

Thank you, Arlie, for making me a “Timmy” I never knew I could be.

 

When Father’s Day comes in the future, I will remember with great pride the three wonderful reasons why and all they have given me. To be a Dad is to be more than you can ever be alone.

– T. August Green

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