When the nurse put my daughter into my arms moments after her birth. I had no clue. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to feel. The wise nurse told me to sing her a song, so I did. To this day, my family makes fun of me for my song choice, and I can’t explain it. It just happened.
No moment changed my life more. Up to then, I lived for myself. My lovely wife too, but really myself, and she was just an adjunct to my life, as I was to hers. But this was different. For the first time in my existence, there was someone more important to me than me.
The first decade was one of emerging joys. Sure, a million problems, but they came with the turf. The smile, the hug, the kiss, made the problems disappear. I was one of those dads who chose to spend time with my kids, who went out of his way to find reasons to be with them. They needed me, and that gave me purpose.
The oddity was that until my own children existed, I had no particular feelings about children. When others made those ridiculous cooing sounds whenever a baby was near, I pretended to throw up a little in my mouth. It held no interest for me at all. I feared I was going to be one god-awful father, not caring at all when my turn came.
It wasn’t like that at all. Mine were different than anyone else’s. They were mine. They depended on me, and if there was any reason I was put on this earth, it was to take care of them. And everything changed, shifted, when the epiphany struck that I was a father.
My fatherly role model wasn’t particularly helpful. My own dad, now 90, had little to do with me when I was a kid. On the one hand, raising the children was women’s work back then, which relieved fathers of the duty to play an active role in their children’s lives. On the other hand, my father was away for my childhood, on the road working, making money so we had food on the table. That was his job, to feed and clothe us. Doing stuff with his kids never entered into the picture.
Yet, my approach to being a father was nothing like my experience as a child. I wanted to spend my time with my kids. I invented reasons to do so. I bought a 1964 Austin Healey BJ8 so that my son and I could drive around in it and go to car shows and cruises.
He loved the car, and I got to spend eight hours at a car show with him most summer Sundays. When we won a trophy, he would rush up to get it. Everyone in the classic car community on Long Island knew Jack, and he was one of the tribe. For me, it was a day with my boy, a day that I wouldn’t have missed for anything.
As wonderful as those times were, the job of father is to raise children who will be independent of you, capable of taking their place in society without the crutch of a father who will be there for them when they stumble. Once a father, you are always a father, ready to do anything you can to make their lives better, happier. You’re a father for ever and for always.
But for your children, that moment when they look at you with adoring, needy eyes lasts only for a brief flash of time. Then it’s gone. Then they’re gone. It means you did your job as a father. But you still wait, in case the phone rings and they need you. For the kids, fatherhood is a mere moment in their lives that they move beyond, but for a father, it’s forever.
Happy father’s day. I hope your life as a father is as wonderful and rewarding as mine.