I have had a powerful paternal instinct since I was a kid. I wanted to be a dad when I had no business being one. Luckily my teenage girlfriend was much more sensible than me in that regard. In fact, it could easily be sensibly argued that I was completely unprepared and too immature to be a dad when I had my first child at the age of 25 (going on 15 emotionally). But man, I always loved the idea of having kids; they seemed like so much fun, partly, it occurs to me, just because I could get away with it, to create my own world independent of the cruelness that seemed so prevalent out there.
When one hears about someone else having a baby, it is such a happy thing, and congratulations and well wishes around. But, having your own baby is the most magical, shockingly unbelievable miracle that ever occurred in the universe.
When Clara was born in 1988, it was the most glorious moment of my life. I rose above the birthing scene and looked down at her beautiful and totally spent mama radiating love, and me, weeping, scissors in hand cutting the umbilical cord. Driving home with that little swaddling babe was the greatest drive of my life. Never before did I feel such a profound sense of purpose. Everything I did in my life from then on became a richer experience. Every note that I played, every basketball I that bounced, every book that I read, every prayer that I offered, I did to nurture myself inside and out, so that I might be a better parent for her. I quit doing drugs and began the painful journey of working through my own fears so that I might be a kinder, stronger, more conscious person. Clara gave me everything.
Being a father offers the greatest opportunity to love…the chance to learn what it is to be selfless, and to reap the greatest rewards from your work. The greatest parenting advice that I ever got was from the great Maya Angelou, who said “your only responsibility as a parent is to see the sun rise and set every time your child walks into the room.”
As men, we define ourselves by the quality of our parenting. In no other way are our weaknesses and strengths more apparent. I have been a great, loving, nurturing, inspiring dad, and I have failed miserably as a dad many times and been a short-tempered, selfish jerk. But no matter what, nothing is more important to me, and I will continue strive to get better at it.
My relationship with my own father has been interesting. He left when I was six years old and went to live in another country. My mother married a new man –a complicated guy — who had a serious substance-abuse problem and was not very available to be a parent. As a result there was never really a dad around, and I ran wild in the street getting into all kinds of craziness. I am grateful for everything exactly as it is and wouldn’t trade it for any other life, but I definitely did not experience any kind of a close son/father relationship.
This situation worked for me and against me with my own fathering skills. In one way I have had no role model to study, but in a deeply positive way, I have been even more determined to give my kids everything that I never had, to love them and to provide them with every opportunity to allow their spirits to soar.
My emptiness taught me what I believe to be the cure for that sense of desperation and of longing–I am full of love for both of my fathers. Over time, I developed a loving relationship with my real dad. We got to know each other when I was in my 30s. My stepfather, who passed away, gave me the gift of music, and loved me the best that he knew how, given his own circumstances. Though my childhood was without parental guidance, it gave me an opportunity to go my own way.
When my oldest daughter was 17 years old — and preparing to go to college — I had another little girl named Sunny. It has been the most amazing experience to raise up one little whippersnapper, have her grow up and leave the nest (not really), and then segue right into another little girl. I learned a lot the first time around, and I think I am a little better at being a present papa. But, it’s not about me, it’s about her. Every morning when I get up bleary-eyed and stumble into the kitchen to make her breakfast, and tell her “for crying out loud stop fooling around and go brush your teeth!” and we do our morning dance and drive to school listening to the terrible pop music that she likes, I know in the depths of my being, that nothing ever could make me happier. I am in awe of my kids, and to all the other papas out there I say, “Hooray.”