I love being a father. It is truly one of the greatest experiences of my life. I am only six years into this journey and I have grown and changed so much as a result of my beautiful daughter, Grace, coming into my life. In fact, I often tell people, “I cannot really say I have changed because there is no part of my life that has been untouched by this amazing and challenging experience. It is not change – it is transformation; nothing is as it once was.”
First, I am so very clear that I would not be a father without my recovery from addiction, twenty-one years ago right after graduating from college. I would mostly be a sperm donor who was unable to truly connect with his daughter because of all of his own pain and trauma. Those twisted forces would have pushed and pulled me in so many directions that like a tornado I would leave incredible wreckage in the lives of those who were foolish enough to try to love me.
But that is not my story.
I have been raised by the men of the recovery community since I was 21 years old. They have shown me how to be a real man – and as a result a truly loving and healthy father and husband. I am far from perfect. There are times when I get frustrated. Upset. Irritated. Times when I am controlling. Unreasonable. But she’s 5 years old. She is only being a five year old. She doesn’t have the wealth of experience or intellect that I do that enables me to apply reason to any of the numerous behaviors I want her to either stop or start, depending on the day or my mood. And I know it has much less to do with Grace than it has to do with me and where I am at emotionally, physically, and even spiritually at any given moment. The better I take care of myself the better I am able to be present for Grace. That is an axiom for any relationship that our society is still trying to accept.
The truth is I didn’t want to be a father. I was so desperately afraid of hurting a child and causing them pain that I was determined to spare a child of any of that experience. I did not trust myself. But it was not my decision alone, thank God. My wonderful wife, Nancy, not only had a deep desire to be a mother but she saw in me the father I could be. The father I have become! But I could not see that man through the wall of pain and trauma I was still carrying with me, long into my recovery from addiction.
Until I held that beautiful girl in my arms for the very first time. In that moment, I knew I wanted nothing other than to do everything I could to be the best father I can be and that means surrounding myself with support, asking for help and always remaining teachable.
Esther Perel, the popular relationship and sex expert, says men are finally being given permission to be fathers. Not just providers or disciplinarians. We are whole people who are invited – even expected – to be emotionally engaged in our children’s lives. The challenge has been – and still is – learning how to do that. I was not shown how to nurture a child, in fact, I was shown the opposite. I was not taught how to allow my more vulnerable and softer side to lead in how I develop connection – in fact, I was shown the opposite. Yet I have been working very hard to learn these important relationship skills as they are indispensable to being a loving father.
I am a very human and imperfect father. I am constantly learning and growing. This coming father’s day is less a celebration of me than it is of the gift I have been given: I absolutely love being a father.