I have the best dad in the world. I know every child is supposed to say that of their dad, but I for one know I’m speaking the truth. My dad taught me to ride a bike (a post for a little later this week), picked me up out of the snow when those icy crystals fell down my boots, made me his deluxe homemade mac’n’cheese or his homemade apple cinnamon pancakes, and he taught me how to spot wildlife when we were on family hikes and camping trips.
But this post isn’t for my dad.
My brother is one of my heroes. As a high school teacher, he patiently navigates the perils of puberty and mood swings all the while trying to educate young people to be critical thinkers, to be open-minded, to wake up to the world around them and realize that we all are agents of change. He and my sister-in-law raise my 3 angelically perfect nefoos — Cubbie (6), Dodger (3-almost-4), and Rex (1). Their exuberance and imaginations are a reflection of how Jon interacts with his boys, teaching them many of the things our dad taught us, and matching them energy level for energy level (except Jon has coffee access).
But this post isn’t for him either.
I see dads all around me from varied socio-economic backgrounds, ethnic and racial heritages, ages and health conditions. I see the new young father pushing his stroller around, showing off his new set of twins. I see the dad using his off-work time to coach his daughter’s soccer team. I smile at the granddad I work with, taking his granddaughter for a few days so mom and dad can catch up on some sleep. I’m encouraged when I see dads and sons out together on the lake fishing — maybe catching very little, but the time spent together speaking a lot. And I make sure there’s extra coffee ready in the mornings for the dads coming in to the Centre who have been up all night pacing with baby shrieking with colic.
But this post isn’t for these dads either.
I’ve written extensively about the majority of clientele in the sex trade being male; about how masculinity as a social construct in our society today is hyper-sexualized; about how patriarchal power is still a hallmark trait in our churches, businesses and governments; and how difficult it is to exist in equality without massive paradigm shifts in our deepest attitudes and beliefs.
But this post isn’t for social justice soap boxes.
This post is for all of you guys who act as fathers but are rarely recognized; for those men who desperately want to be dads but aren’t able to because of infertility, lack of relationship, being gay, or being denied adoption; for those men who have watched helplessly as your partners endure pain while miscarrying; for those dads who have lost children and can’t bear the trauma one more day. When Fathers’ Day comes around, and the dream of having children has materialized again you are expected to shrug it off, walk it off, knock it off.
You are expected to “be a man”.
Not being able to be a parent isn’t supposed to hurt you! You’re cool, calm, collected and stuff like this isn’t supposed to rattle you. Heck, you aren’t supposed to even care until you’re in a long-term relationship. Guys don’t think about stuff like this.
Except… you do. (many of you anyway)
But how do you verbalize or share in any way about your desire to have kids? How can you? As my friend Jay shared with me, how can single guys — gay or straight — say how badly we want kids? People start getting uncomfortable, thinking we’re pedophiles or sexual predators; that or we think dad-minded guys are sissies, whipped, girly or hormonal. We can only be excited about bearing kids after we’re in a tight, safe relationship and we share our excitement when our partners are present with us. [paraphrased]
You guys who desperately want to be dads have to live through this machismo attitude, rarely catching a break about how dreams for kids are top on your life plan lists; when your partner has a miscarriage, you aren’t supposed to grieve (women are barely allowed to grieve; society doesn’t recognize unborn children as children!); it isn’t supposed to affect you as deeply when the social worker tells you: “No, sorry. You’re home isn’t approved for adoption because (you’re gay, your income isn’t high enough, your health isn’t good enough)”. And when you lose a child, it’s all supposed to stay inside because for some reason, we call this “strength”.
How is this NOT supposed to hurt?
And when you coaches, mentors, tutors, uncles, cousins, older brothers, teachers, journeymen, counsellors, clergymen, old-men-who-live-alone-up-the-street-and-fix-everyone’s-bikes are told that you aren’t REAL dads, that’s not supposed to hurt either?
In a world where we slam guys for being dead-beat dads; in a world where we accuse men for not stepping up to the plate; in a world when we lament the lack of dad wisdom, we dare put other men in their places because they aren’t related by blood?
Our world is indeed hyper-sexualized in many ways. One of the responses to this sexual immersion is the fury against sexual abuse, trafficking and violence. Don’t get me wrong: all sexual violence is wrong and perpetrators must be judged accordingly, and victims given all measures of support and healing.
But this doesn’t mean all men are abusers, johns, or pedophiles. When we become too scared to believe that a childless man would be humble and gracious enough to offer his own time to help our kids with their homework… teach them to ride bikes… mentor them in our various belief systems… volunteer with kids’ organizations… stick with it as a teacher, social worker, or coach… teach them to drive… and yes, confront them when their behaviour is hurting themselves and others… we become impoverished and pathetic indeed.
So when Fathers’ Day rolls around, I lift a pint to you: single guy realizing he’s headed towards his 40s (maybe already in his 40s) and scared that he’ll never have kids; man who was diagnosed with a health condition or injury preventing any possibility of having kids; gay couple still living under the stigma of our society; guy who’s been told by social workers that your home isn’t kid-approved; or father who has lost a child with no words to describe the grief.
I hear your desire for children; I see your longing to be fathers; I sense your grief at having been dads, and losing the most precious part of your lives; and I stand and recognize your unspoken and unheeded place in our world. We can’t live without men like you.
To all of you, whether you have children or not; whether you’re in a relationship or not; whether you already volunteer with kids or not, we need you. We need you to keep showing our kids how to be kind, caring, just, and generous; we need you to show them how to be critical thinkers, intuitive and interdependent; we need you to show them how to be empathetic and loving.
So when Fathers’ Day looms in sight for you, know that you are loved, honoured, included, and needed. Our world is a better place because you — you men who long to be dads.