I’ve been thinking of my father lately. I wonder how he’s doing and I hope that everything is right in his world. And when I say this, what’s going on in my head as well as my heart is not the usual conversation that a son would have with his estranged father. It’s not, “How are you doing? What’s going on with you and how is your side of the family?” Instead, it’s more like, “What’s going on in your head, Dad?” “Do you miss your immediate family?” Or the ever pressing question that has weighed on my chest for most of my adult life which is, “Do you ever regret the choices that you’ve made?”
My parents separated when I was nine; give or take a year or two. Me being the oldest of four boys, I remember the good times, the “okay” times, and when the times became down right unbearable. I remember my father as being a man who loved women, music and family…usually in that order. Or at least it seemed that way. In the eyes and mind of a child, the world is the home and everything that comes with it which includes the dynamics of the parents. It’s where they learn how to live, love and treat people. It’s where they learn how to interact socially.
My parents separated before their situation deteriorated to extreme chaos that would cause irreparable and perhaps detrimental harm to my psyche. My mother left before the arguments escalated into brutal beatings…not that I wasn’t privy to hear some things that I should never see while nestled in the confines of my bedroom. After all, children know when something is dreadfully wrong, even if they don’t know why.
After my mother left my father, I knew that there were other women in his life… many women. I’ve met at least two of them. And never once in all of the years of living on God’s beautiful green earth did I ever think that I was more important than any of them. You would think that I, as a first-born son, would rate higher than someone that my father chose to live with, or at minimum, lay down with. You would think. But from my vantage point, I can’t believe that I did because there were so many missed birthdays, no one-on-one time, and only one Christmas after the proverbial split shared with the biological family that I can remember.
I sound bitter. I sound like I still hurt and maybe in some ways, I do. But I choose to rise above it. I choose this because I realize that my father was never taught the value of showing love to his family. To my knowledge, he was never shown how to nurture. In his day, nurturing was the woman’s job. We all know that in order to have a well-rounded child, the father has to play a role that is so much more than just putting money on the table or schooling his son on how to be a man; because the role of a man in today’s society is so much more than being hard-nosed and unforgiving. It includes knowing when to love, when to nurture, when to be warm, uplifting and kind. It is knowing that there is more to fatherhood than being a disciplinarian. Indeed, it is more than leading and being catered to. Being catered to is a by-product of you doing your job as a father.
My father knew how to discipline. But he wasn’t necessarily emotionally equipped to love which is perhaps the most important attribute that a father should be able to convey to his child. I remember receiving more beatings as a child than his telling me that he loved me. And as an adult, I can still count on one hand how many times he has told me that he loved me without me prodding him to say the words that all sons need to hear.
Fatherhood is underrated. It is underrated to the point that fathers even underrate themselves. Some think that if they bring a child into this world and not occupy the role that they created for themselves, that this somehow translates to the fact that this is okay because the mother will handle it all. The mother will educate that child because if it is their role after all to be the caregivers. It is the father’s role to provide, which may include but not be limited to making sure that the child has food, clothing and shelter. But there is something that every child should be taught, and that is it is also the father’s responsibility to love, teach, respect, protect and nurture that child, if for no other reason than to keep their parental role occupied so that someone or something else doesn’t do the job that you should already be doing.
I turned out okay. And through it all, I will always love my father. Still, I wish that my grandparents had done a better job with him. I wish that they had taken more time to show him how to be a true man instead of imitating one. We all need to understand this because the simple truth of the matter is that the little boy that is shown in the picture above still lives deep down within me. And he still needs and deserves answers. He still wants to know that if his father had to do it all over again, would he make the same choices. He would like to hear that his father loves him without having to prod him to say it. And he would like to somehow have missed birthdays made up for. He would like to know that his father would at least try to make up for lost time, or at least want to.
So I think of him from time to time, wondering how he really is because the women are gone. His family of four sons are now grown men who cater to their mother and for all intents and purposes, ignore him. Well, not all of his sons ignore him. I still call him from time to time. And I ask how his day was and how the family is. But I will never know how he really is, or if he has any regrets over the choices that he’s made.
~ J.L. Whitehead