I’ve grown to accept Father’s Day will always be difficult for me.
Like many other brown kids from El Paso, I was from a household of modest means, supported by a hard-working father who broke his back to keep food on the table and a roof over for his family. For him, this is what it was to be a good father. Fatherhood wasn’t about the time spent teaching me the alphabet, the importance of sharing my Crayons or smoothly riding bikes in the street, none of which he did.
Knowing my pop genuinely equates being the breadwinner to being a good father, I struggle with the resentment I hold towards his refusal to engage in the complexity of a father-son relationship. While we rarely went on vacations or frequented fancy restaurants growing up, I am whole-heartedly grateful for always having a roof over my head, food in my belly and also the opportunity to have a college experience that shaped my future and elevated my goals. Pop has been an integral part of financially supporting my journey.
There are times Pop tried to teach the essentials being a man: building fences, changing a tire, searching for impossible-to-find tools in the unkempt, Bermuda Triangle of garages. Each lesson started in a monotone voice, but hardened to sandpapered tones. Spanish words grumbled. Lessons concluding in ruined Saturday afternoons.
Like many children who (even as adults) navigate through estranged relationships with their fathers, I struggled whether to reach out this Father’s Day. For the last seven years, Pop’s holiday has been devoid of my call. This year was no exception.
I often wonder the real cause of this: the distance forever existing between our interests, personalities and sexual orientation? Other times I wonder had I been the football-playing, aggressive womanizer he seemed to want, would it have made any difference in the level of affection and intimacy we share?
Getting older, I’m more mindful our relationship might just be a reflection of the one Pop had with his own father. If it is, then we are men molded of the same metal—children deprived of meaningful bonds.
Despite that, I won’t let him, or men like him, off the hook so easily.
My father, an impenetrable force of masculinity, has been a hard working man his entire life—a lesson I am grateful he passed down to me. It is a trait he developed years before becoming a schoolteacher, customs agent, landlord, welder, roofer, plumber, barber, Navy sailor, cement mixer, or any of the other hundred roles he’s had throughout his life. A trait taught by his own father. Work defines them.
Throughout my life, I've wondered why he couldn’t put an ounce of that work ethic into his role as my pop. After all, wasn’t it a job he’d signed up for too?
While many fathers have grown out of the ideology that their minimal contribution to family life is bringing home a pay check that keeps their family fed and clothed, others continue to struggle with developing meaningful bonds with their children.
Because no one really teaches men how to be good fathers, they have to pay attention. Make time. Teach. Listen. Watch children make mistakes. Support and practice extreme patience.
Children need genuine fathers, not ATMs. They need to see them smile, laugh, and let loose. Children need fathers to be silly and playful. They need to see fathers cry, fail, vulnerable and struggle as they find their ground again.
Children need fathers to be present.
I know I did. I’d even take him starting now.
Image by by eflon at http://flickr.com/photos/23094783@N03/2995401141 .