Fathers are special people. But, there’s a contradiction in fatherhood. Any man can be a father. In fact, men all over the world do it every day. Becoming a father is pretty easy. However, becoming a father and being a father are two different things. The real question is, once a man becomes a father, will he choose to take on that role?
We hear a lot of argument and debate about a woman’s right to choose, but I can’t help but to wonder about a man’s position in all of this. Once a woman makes her choice, a man has a choice, as well. From the time a pregnancy is determined, the father has the ability to choose whether or not he wants to take part in his child’s life, aside from child support payments. A man ultimately has the option to walk away at any time. I once read a quote that said, “Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.” In other words, it takes a real man to step up to the plate and not just take the responsibility of a dad, but also take the role of being dad. The amazing reality is that a handful of men will take this a step further and actually take the role of being a dad to another man’s children when that man has chosen to walk away. Now, that is what I define as a REAL man. That’s my dad.
When my sister and I were babies, our parents got divorced. By that time, our father was never around and paid very little attention to the fact he had two daughters at home who needed him. Several years later, when my mom met the man who we now call “Dad”, he happily took the responsibility that our real birth father did not seem to want. Not only did he take on the responsibility, but he legally adopted us, so that we would officially be his daughters. Not many men would do that. From the time I was 8 years old, he is the man I called “Dad”. He is the man I know as “Dad”. He is the only one in my life who has ever been “Dad”.
You may wonder what all this has to do with Valentine’s Day. Well, as the month of February approached, I began to reflect on the men who have made their way in and out of my life; those I loved, those I hurt, those who left me broken and fragile, those who tried, those who failed, and those who made a lasting impact on my life. But, of all of them, the one man who stands out above the rest is my dad.
This may seem strange, but it’s truly not. After all, he was the first man in my life, he is the only man who matters, and he is the one man who is still here, no matter how many times I broke his heart.
He is the man who walked me down the aisle when I was way too young to wear a wedding dress, and he was the man who knowingly, but without a word, offered a warm hug and a place to stay when I returned with a broken heart and shattered dreams, two years later. He is the man who taught me how to drive a stick shift, change a tire, mow a lawn, bait a hook, and use a nail gun. He is the man who bets a whole $10 with me every year on the Super Bowl. I don’t even look forward to the commercials like everyone else; I look forward to trash talking with Dad when my team scores. It’s silly, but it’s tradition for us, and we love it!
Oh, the stories I could tell… He intimidated my first date with a shotgun and an alarm clock (I arrived home 20 minutes early that night). I know it was all in good humor and we laugh about it today, but deep inside, a part of him was broken that night as he let his little girl walk out the door, all grown up, on her first date. He taught my sister and me a lesson in fighting by making us physically fight each other in the back yard. Then, he taught us a lesson in spitting by making us spit at each other for 15 minutes in front of the house for the neighborhood to see. I’ll never live down “Spaghetti Head”. That’s a nickname I proudly earned one night during a food fight that Dad started.
But, it wasn’t always fun and games. There were strict rules, and they were followed. It was a requirement that we ate dinner as a family every night. We also had strict bedtimes and even stricter curfews. Though we didn’t like it, there was a method to his madness. We spent a great deal of time together as a family, which has become quite a valuable commodity for us today. Because we live such crazy lives and in different zip codes, it’s very difficult for all of us to be together at one time. It usually only happens once a year, but when it does, we deeply appreciate every moment. This has a lot to do with how we were raised.
Dad was also very stern, had high expectations and handed out hefty penalties for failure. I will not speak for my siblings. I can only say that I learned some very difficult lessons growing up, but I am certainly the woman I am now in large part because of the man he was then. He made mistakes (most parents do), but he did what he knew how to do in the circumstances we were in at the time, and we were placed in some pretty difficult circumstances along the way. As a parent, he doesn’t always agree with our choices in life, but he is proud of who we are. We have been through divorces, accidents, health issues, money problems, you name it, and we’ve experienced it. All the while, he and my mom have seen us through each and every roadblock, despite their own struggles.
Today, the need for discipline has disappeared and there is now more of a friendship than a parent/child relationship. I talk about things when I’m ready to talk about them and ask for guidance when I need it. Otherwise, we talk about politics, weather, current events, or anything that happens to come up. I enjoy spending time with him whenever I can or talking on the phone when we have some juicy gossip.
As a child, I often wondered why my real birth father would give up the rights to his own daughters. What man would ever do that? What had we ever done to him? What did we do wrong? As a young girl, I couldn’t understand why this was happening, and as the older of the two, I took it rather personally that my sister was being included in the rejection. However, as I grew up, I began to realize that this man had not actually rejected us, but instead had done us a favor!
He turned us over to the bigger man, the better man, the stronger man, the man who would be willing to sacrifice life and limb for the well-being of two little girls, something their own father wouldn’t do. He did the right thing, because as it turns out, the events we struggled with later in life required the strength and perseverance of a dad, a real dad, not just a man who would show up whenever it was convenient for him.
Dad always used to say that nobody was ever good enough for his girls, and nobody ever will be. I always rolled my eyes whenever he said it, but as the years have passed and I get further into my life’s journey, I must admit, I agree. Dad hit that one right on the head. Even the most perfect man on earth will never be good enough for one of Daddy’s girls. I get that now.
That’s why on this Valentine’s Day, I won’t be waiting for roses or candy from a secret admirer. Those things aren’t important. I know there’s someone special back home who’s had my heart all along. I’m Daddy’s Valentine! I always have been and I always will be.