It’s an odd thing to look at your children and wonder how another man might have fared as their father – though you’re officially in Empty Nest, and your most active parenting days are behind you.
It’s an odd thing to revisit notions of fatherhood whether you wish to or not, as the time of year descends and our concepts of family are forced out of their shadowy corners and off their tidied shelves. So we remind ourselves to be grateful for our dads who are still here, we remember our dads who have passed away, we consider the fathers of our children who may still be in their lives and ours – or who long ago have exited the scene.
It’s an odd thing to look at your adolescent or young adult sons and wonder what sort of men – and fathers – they will become.
There are advantages to these fragments and views, however tinged with sentimentality. They are infused with the essence of your solid middle ground, your stage of “in between” – neither young nor old yet able to exploit the lessons of earlier years and still create a vibrant future.
Oh, you may feel the signs of aging in your body that you accept as a given or fight like hell. You may see the signs in the mirror and smile at the secrets they would reveal, appreciative of your softening expression. Overall you realize the marvels of this vantage point that connects the naiveté of youth to your growing wisdom. And yes, there is wisdom, along with an expanding sense of self, a growing confidence, and the knowledge of what you value.
You may recognize (at last) that you have lived with daddy issues of your own, and in awareness, there is healing as well as progress. You may wish your father had been around when you were a child, though you treasure memories in the years before his passing.
You recognize both hardships and benefits where they exist – your single mother work ethic, your small team approach, even your struggles – as your sons, raised largely without their dad around, know what it is to take nothing as entitlement.
You glance with tenderness at the man at your side, his love arriving like an unexpected gift at an age when you anticipate no such deliveries. It’s odd – and pleasurable – to experience his presence as he stands by you and also by your sons.
He speaks of regrets when it comes to his own children – his career kept him away too much, he says – as it was for your father and likewise, your ex. Still, you’re grateful for his humor and his patience, his being there for your young men in an unofficial second go-round.
And so you cannot help but gaze at the second chance fathers you notice everywhere – the silver-haired men of fifty-something and sixty-something – at the bookstore in your neighborhood, at pickup by the elementary school, out with their second wives or possibly the third with a young child in hand, clearly from that union.
You wonder why some men do not choose to be there the first time around, rather than leaving their families to a legacy of absence.
If you ignore the cards in the supermarket and the upscale boutiques, if you ignore the advertisements for gadgets and sweaters targeted at dads, if you ignore the commercialism of the day itself and the weeks that precede it, you can unearth the essence of what you had and what you did not: the eventual loving relationship with your father as an adult, though he was largely invisible during your childhood; the spotty influence of your children’s dad, and mixed feelings over how that will ultimately shape their manhood; sons for whom you hope you were enough – teaching them to honor their word, to honor their partners, to live out their dreams while honoring family.
For now, there is a man who brews your coffee in the morning, who recounts his wild tales at the table, and who makes your children laugh. He reminds you that a woman’s strength at any age is never compromised by admiration, vulnerability, or passion. And in loving, it’s odd to find yourself here – wondering what might have been – while still content with exactly what is.
D.A. Wolf blogs at www.dailyplateofcrazy.com