I won’t play the “Webster’s defines father as…” card. Ultimately, I think the definitions only tell part of the story. Being a father isn’t about biology, or marriage to someone’s biological parent. Being a father is a commitment to being emotionally available and present with a person younger than you. Beyond that though, I believe taking a paternal role in someone’s life also means constant reflection within, to ensure you are always improving yourself. Further, it’s making the world a better place for the next generation. Many, if not all of my beliefs of what a father should bring to the relationship aren’t specific to dads, or men. They are just generally what being a parent is about to me. However, there is a disparity in the number of maternal figures raising kids versus paternal role models performing the same duties. Some men doubt their abilities, others believe it to be “women’s work”, and still others are purely absent the entire process. That truly needs to change.
I have spoken about the way lifting weights (and subsequently powerlifting) have made me a better person to anyone who will listen. Becoming a dad for the first time happened around the same time that I began working on my physical health. As I stripped away layers of fat and began rebuilding myself from the ground up, I discovered this deeper emotional capacity. I knew the love I had for this person I’d never met was the kind where I would run through walls, I would go Liam Neeson, and I would consistently work to make the world better for this kid. I didn’t realize how much my worldview would shift or how much my perspective would change. It didn’t happen overnight, but I discovered that every news report suddenly inspired me to frame it “what if that was my kid? I had been selfish, caring more about what happened to me and my immediate circle. But suddenly, I realized that every person was somebody’s kid. It should be noted; I am not always the smartest or quickest to reach a no-brainer immediately.
When I was a teen and not actively dating, my parents expressed to me that if I was gay, they’d still love me. I didn’t think much of it, because I am not gay, and “you guys are my parents, that’s kind of your job, right?” I remember hearing stories about people whose parents disowned them for being who they were when I got a little older. It truly boggled my mind, but it didn’t impact me because I never had that experience. Then, I became a dad. I was beyond impacted hearing stories like that, I was mortified. A child is such a precious thing, fragile and resilient at the same time, filled with wonder and amazement, and having the absolute privilege of getting to feel your heart grow to near bursting, I could never understand how you could willfully remove that from your life.
Here’s the thing though…maybe not everyone was as fortunate as I was. To be loved and accepted, cherished and valued. Sure, my parents aren’t perfect (pro-tip, none of us are). But they were there. They fed me, clothed me, celebrated the day of my birth, encouraged me to find things I enjoyed and loved me. They shared their experiences with me and framed my beliefs as I grew but gave me the space to form my own opinions and do the things I liked. I was never pushed into anything. They shared the things they were passionate about with me (watching the Olympics and certain bands are forever burned into my heart as family stuff). I always assumed that’s how being a parent was supposed to be.
As I have gotten older, I have continued to work on myself and my worldview. I have a total of six kids (a mixture of biological and step kids) and each one is unique and precious. Each kid has their own strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. But I love them all and I want a better world for them all. Not just for their own individual experiences but for their entire generation. I want them and frankly all kids, to feel loved, accepted and encouraged to be who they are. I struggle immensely to understand how anyone can believe that one child’s life is worth more than another, again with the realization that we are all someone’s kids. This isn’t a political or evangelical thing, although it damn well should be. Everybody deserves the chance to be loved and supported.
I’m a dad. I love giving hugs, telling the people close to me that I love them and being there when they need me. I recognize that every kid grows up and as we all get older, our mistakes become bigger. I have made a lot of mistakes. I have disappointed my parents. The trick here is that they have still shown up. Maybe they haven’t been happy to show up, maybe they have been angry, but they have been there, nonetheless. That’s being a parent. That’s the level of commitment every kid deserves. Maybe the sacrifice you make is giving up sitting on the couch watching football all day on a weekend to go to your kid’s game. Maybe you have to sacrifice some dearly held belief because your kid doesn’t fit neatly into that box. But you have to show up.
Being a father is about love, and it’s an unconditional love. We are all the product of our upbringing. We are all uniquely wonderful and damaged in our own ways and we will all blow it and disappoint people from time to time. My dad and I haven’t had many deep conversations, and we have sat silently beside each other often. He introduced me to some great music, and we have shared a number of concert experiences together. He has been pissed with me and at me. He’s also been embarrassingly proud of me. But he has always been there. He has always shown up and loved me through every up and down. He has worked to make my life better, and the world around me, as much as he had the ability to do so. That’s fatherhood. That’s where the bar is set, and that’s what everyone who wants the title of “dad” should aspire to, that level of love and commitment.