I recently had a close acquaintance reach out to me, asking for advice as he prepares to venture into the phase of life known as fatherhood. Specifically, he wanted to know what it would take to be a loving father to his baby girl while also finding time to fulfill the rest of his responsibilities. Upon reading his email, I quickly came to the conclusion that he didn’t know me very well. His question was one that best deserved an answer from someone more qualified like Barack, or Doctor Huxtable or someone who at the very least had a reasonable understanding of children. He needed an answer from someone who wasn’t me.
However, possibly because I never pass up a chance to generate some fiction or because I had once been on the opposite end of a similar type of exchange, I settled into my chair, placed my fingers on my keyboard and took a crack at drafting up a response. It included a list of useful resources and tips meant to ensure his little one made it to her first recital. Once I finished, I read it, reread it, and then edited it. After editing it, I read it again, then deleted it, because when I looked at this list of recommendations and suggestions, I realized it primarily consisted of a running tally of shit I hadn’t intentionally done while raising my kids.
So I began to compose a new email. This one read:
That you’re even asking a question like this, that you’re even thinking about it, is a good enough indication that everything is going to be alright.
This response was a roundabout way of stating that I believed the essence of this man’s question was that he was searching for a way to become his best self. It’s an endeavor worth emulating, an example worth setting for his little girl. Having said this, I still found myself deleting this email as well because I felt his question deserved an answered that I delivered in person.
When we met, we laughed as I recounted my two attempts at writing him. From there I shared some things I’ve experienced as a father of three kids. The most important of which was a list of my failures. It’s a list that, if it were full and comprehensive, would stretch to the end of the internet. But my failures are what have shaped me the most as a father. They include moments of unnecessary yelling and a few times I lost my temper. They show me absent during moments when my kids pleaded for my undivided attention. Or rushing out the door to bury my face in my work Blackberry. When I look at them now, they are the moments that I sometimes wish I could forget.
This conversation went on for a couple of hours. At the end of it, I think that he could see that this thing called fatherhood created a lot of room for error, but that by living the essence of his question, by searching for his best self for his daughter, she would eventually be able to see that no matter what happened, he was at least trying to give her the very best of what he had to offer. She could see that he was trying to be a father.
photo by ELIZA