On Honoring Ourselves – Father’s Day 2021 Reflections

Setting The Scene – Being More Than Just A Present Father

A tinted glass window separated PJ and me from all the other families who were lined up for a late father’s day breakfast at the popular Cafe Cultura. PJ sat beside me more eager for me to open up the gifts that were inside the pinstripe “Dad” imprinted gift bag than for the arrival of his cinnamon-encrusted churro pancakes.

This moment had been planned after I had a conversation with a friend who had been coming to terms with the type of father he experienced growing up and his realization of the type of father he needed.

During this conversation, we talked about how it’s not enough to have a father in the house, but how that father needs to show up and be actively engaged with his children.

The striking similarities between our struggle to learn what constitutes being a man and father came from us having an absentee father in our lives – his father present but not really engaged and my father simply absent and ashamed.

I remember my buddy telling me that when you come from dysfunction it’s not enough to avoid the same pitfalls. Instead, he pointed out the need to do more to be more. To be more of a man to yourself. Be more of a husband for your wife. And more of a father for your child.

This was so profound to me because from the moment I found out I was going to be a father to a son, my first thought was that I’d be the image-bearer for what a man, husband, and father ought to be for him.

Be The Father You Knew You Needed

As my friend explained, it was vital to not only lead by example but to find ways to emphasize my exceptional qualities as a man and father to my son. While we may live in a society that struggles to honor fathers, I’ve made it my mission to show my son that I’m a capable, competent, and caring parent.

Yes, our children are observant. Often we believe it’s enough to conduct ourselves with dignity and in silence because we think by modeling such behavior our sons will learn through our example.

I remember sitting on the outside porch gazing into the nighttime sky as I listened to my friend’s insight. He emphasized the need to push beyond what we model and hope our children learn. Instead, my friend spoke about the need to be intentional about how we represent ourselves before our children. He stressed the need to speak life confirming affirmations to my son so he understood my value in his life. I was challenged to create moments that showcased my worth for my son. We ended the conversation with a stronger conviction to be the type of men and fathers that we needed our fathers to be for us.

Dadvocating For Awesome Fathers

The lead-up to Father’s Day 2021 involved me thinking about how I could distinguish that year from the previous years. Those previous years’ traditions resulted in us always doing something arts and crafts related. This tradition was created one year after I picked up PJ from daycare the weekend of Father’s Day and he didn’t have a gift for me.

At the moment I didn’t know the daycare forgot about the holiday until I dropped him off the following Monday. I’d usually pick him up early Friday but since he had a doctor’s appointment that Friday, I went to the appointment and from there we went about our day. When I was informed that the kiddos didn’t create anything that Monday morning, I knew I had to speak up.

This experience motivated me to speak to the daycare owner about the need for them to create such experiences for the kiddos on Father’s Day. During the conversation, I asked if the children created something for Mother’s Day, which I learned they did. In speaking my peace, I expressed my disappointment. I explained some fathers are holding it down and who want to be more of a fixture in their children’s lives but are sometimes met with resistance or can’t due to circumstances.

I mentioned how much it sucked that PJ didn’t have the opportunity to express his love for me. I was fed up. After years of reading nonsense posted by bitter women and soft guys on social media platforms where they thank their mothers for being such great fathers, I needed to speak my truth.

My truth was also PJ’s truth. And the truth of the matter was I have never opted out of my son’s life.

Over the years my son had been in daycare I’d established the kind of relationship with the staff that allowed me to feel comfortable initiating this conversation. They were there when I was married and then divorced. They welcomed me when I showed up before work so I could feed PJ breakfast. They let us have much-needed alone time in an empty room when I’d leave work early and show up before he was checked out for the day. They even encouraged me to call him from work. When I did, they’d give PJ the phone so we could “talk”. I will always have love and respect for that staff because they knew I was in pain and helped me heal from it.

That staff treated us just like family. We had such a unique bond and that’s why I felt it was my duty to speak up for my son.

Often I wonder if adults think such experiences don’t matter since the kiddos are young and can’t talk. Even so, kiddos feel our energy and communicate at a young age through their emotions. To the daycare’s credit, when I showed up again, PJ had his Father’s Day gift for me decorated with scribble scrabble that just delighted my heart and his heart too.

Dadvocating Is What Our Sons Deserve

That Father’s Day 2018 was a watershed moment for me. It emboldened me to speak up on behalf of PJ as it related to my role in his life. When he enrolled in preschool in 2019, I built my relationships there. I ingratiated myself into that community. I collaborated with his teacher so I could have PJ’s projects and artwork placed into a folder designated for me. This in turn got the staff thinking about how PJ could create artwork specifically for me.

The point I’m making is two-fold. First, as fathers, we have to be advocates for our sons, especially at such a young age when their bond with us is ripe for strengthening. Second, we have to be advocates for ourselves. We can’t hope or rely on the benevolence of others to get what we want. Too often I’m astonished how fathers can’t see it’s incumbent upon them to get what they deserve. In these single father support groups, I read countless stories from frustrated fathers who are left out of the loop when it comes to being involved in their child’s life.

To these fathers, I might suggest parallel parenting if they find co-parenting too difficult. I’ll ask if they have a custody agreement in place to ensure their son has protected access to them. I’ll recommend speaking to the teacher about their interest in being more involved in their child’s education. Simply, I try to point them in the direction of empowerment.

I applied this empowerment perspective for Father’s Day 2021 by building on the conversation with my friend that I referenced at the beginning of this blog.

Creating A Memorable Father’s Day For My Son

For Father’s Day 2021, the goal was to create an experience for PJ that would allow him to embrace the moment.

It all began when a friend dashed out to my place to drop off her gifts, which included a beautiful card for PJ so he could write his little note inside.

Then I received a book entitled “Why a Son Needs a Dad” (Available on Amazon) from my former supervisor who retired to Oregon. PJ only knows Sharon as “Auntie Sharon” and he’s delighted whenever he receives a package from her. Admittedly, Auntie Sharon always finds the best books to mail directly to PJ.

On this Father’s Day, PJ bounced around in the chair eager for me to open the gifts. In his excitement, he started taking the gifts out of the bag for me one by one. When I opened his card, PJ pointed to a picture he drew on the card of us hugging and proceeded to get are warm and fuzzy in my arms.

Next, he rummaged through the gift bag to pull out a mug that was engraved with “Papa Bear”. I instantly pointed to my favorite hat that I wore for the occasion. The hat is adorned with an image of a bear that’s wearing a t-shirt with “Papa” imprinted across it. In other words, it’s my Papa Bear hat. When I showed PJ how both my hat and cup had a similar message on them, he was so tickled by the synchronicity of the moment.

For the finale, I pulled out the Why a Son Needs a Dad book. PJ relishes being read to, so when he realized what was about to happen, he snuggled his way onto my lap.

Although the restaurant was packed with diners, we sat in our little nook as if we were in our little world. With Daddy Blue Whale laying on top of the table, we quickly found ourselves lost in the story. With each turn of the page, he became more cuddly on my lap.

From the boy that you are to the man you will be. I love who you are and the promise I see. You make me the father I dreamed I could be.”

Such a magical story that manifested a magical moment for us that I’ll cherish forever.

With Father’s Day upon us, I hope dads who are reading this recognize that this day represents an opportunity to reclaim our rightful place in the lives of our kiddos. Let this day represent a new beginning. Embrace this day as an opportunity to remind your kiddos of your everlasting love for them. And, if you don’t have the time you desire and deserve with your child(ren), reorient yourself to the time that you do have and make this day matter for everyone.

When we honor ourselves for being awesome and present fathers, we are teaching the next generation so much about what it truly means to embrace the privileges and responsibilities of fatherhood.

To all you real ones out there, how we live is being watched more than you imagine. Always remember, love is a verb, and fathers matter.

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