This is a hard one to write. Ever since I was a boy, I’ve thought about being a father. At most points if you’d have asked what I wanted most out of this world, I would’ve answered “to be a dad.” There are a lot of reasons, I suppose–to pass along the things I treasured about my dad, to experience the particular joy of pride, to put strength and love out into the world and aim it at wide eyes and open ears. To say “I am your dad, and I will always love you.”
The reality is considerably more complex. We know this. Thirty years hence, I think of how things have changed. What are my memories? They are not of a dad who could fix everything, who was all things to all people and possessed of a supernal ability to attend and document every lost tooth and dribbled single into right field. My dad worked as often as not. He coached some of my teams and others he watched from behind the fence. When he was there, he was there. Lots of times I played games without anyone in the crowd. We all did. And we all went home those days to tell our dads what happened. (Sometimes we lied and said we threw 3 touchdowns instead of 1. Oops.)
In the summer he took me to play basketball on Sundays, in the heat. Hamilton School in Newton Highlands, Mills Field in Needham. Usually we’d get a soda at Panella’s afterwards. New York Seltzer or Snapples before Snapples were just fruit drinks. Other weekends or afterschools, I’d be out in the yard playing by myself for hours. Every house we ever lived in had an imaginary baseball field I invented. They were mine, my fields. I talked to myself and curated fantastical baseball leagues in my head, populated by my friends. That was mine, my head. My time. My run of the yard. And my dad let me have it.
It’s a hot Sunday as I write now, remembering my dad who was there when he was there. Dad, you were always enough. I love you. Thank you.
And so the crippling thing, the thing I can’t possibly win, is the idea that each day’s enough isn’t enough. That fatherhood is the stuff of checklists and signposts, a game to be won and a role to be inhabited. That I am a father before I am myself, that I have to be something with my boys instead of just being with them.
In the name of fatherhood and under the cloud of expectation, I have made some awful mistakes. We all have. I’ve spun around in circles of self-laceration and allowed that whirl to skitter out into the world, unchecked and dangerous. The thing is, what you want most in the world can’t be smothered or gripped too tightly. You can’t choke your hold on fatherhood and you can’t do your job with an eye on all the things you thought you were supposed to do, or all the reportage from all the other fathers’ PR people.
When I fall into this pit, it is no one’s fault but my own. It is not the world’s problem. It is not social media’s problem. It is not anyone’s to own but mine. I am working on it, working on just being. I have a beautiful wife and the two boys I love most. I’m working on being instead of showing. On listening instead of talking. The father I want to be–gentle, strong, kind, present…he is the person I need to be first, and all the rest will follow in its own way.
This is raw and in truth I am only sharing for two reasons:
1) The dads I know out there who are struggling to make things work…you can be enough; you are enough. Be the person you want a father to look like. But for yourself first, and only then for your family. All the rest will follow in its own way.
2) Bringing this back to my occupation…gosh, I see this stuff all the time. Moms and dads beating themselves up under the weight of expectation. I wasn’t supposed to feel this way at 35, I want to look like this person, if I don’t do x, y, and z in the gym I am a failure. NO! NO! Stop keeping score. This is your race. For YOU. Do the things that make you happy. Do the things that make you scared. Surround yourselves with people who support you but also give you the space to find your own way. The tighter you cling to the scorecards–your own, your friends’, your feed’s–the quicker you’ll lose what you want most. Nothing is more useless than a ten-mile sign without directions. Follow the path and disengage from the destination and pretty soon you end up where you’re supposed to be.
And…squat on Mondays, deadlift on Fridays. Okay?