This year will be my fourth Father’s Day as a dad and my fortieth as a son. My son, affectionately named “Noodle” in my public writings, is only three. But I call this my fourth because, as I see it, the minute we found out there was a beating heart and bunch of organs gestating inside his mother, the inevitable future shaped my present into fatherhood. I started taking care of him by taking care of her, and I’ve kept at it since I quit my regular job and became a stay at home dad two months after he was born.
Being a stay at home dad means two things: First, I’ve got an unusual – though increasingly mainstream – take on dadding; second, most folks don’t think I have a job. I’ll point out the obvious: I write. I squeeze freelance gigs in the cracks between my full time course of rejected chicken dinners and pee soaked sheets. Writing’s my part time job, fraught with as much rejection as I get from my fussy Noodle, though resulting in markedly less urine on my bedclothes – at least in any literal sense. The point is that my job is to keep Noodle safe and raise him as best I can. My passion is to get better at this job and to document the ins and outs of doing so.
As far as I’ve figured to this point, and I suppose it’s obvious, Noodle wouldn’t be who he is without me – without all I do and don’t do. But it cuts both ways: I wouldn’t be who I am now without him. We need each other, but sometimes more than anything else, I find, it takes a dad. You learn these lessons in unexpected moments at the dentist, on the first day of school, riding a horse for the first time. And later in life, when a good old fashioned heart to heart chat can solve in a minute what’s puzzled you for days. Being a dad and having a dad can be equally humbling experiences.
My dad is a good man. It took me a while to see that. He might have had his own demons for a while – and who doesn’t? – when he first had kids. I can sympathise with all that now. His passion then was carpentry, and it still is today. But when I was born he had a desk job and a toddler and that can sure tamp down creative sparks. Now that I really get it, I don’t blame him anymore; I un-learned the blame game and I took a look at myself instead. I learned that a stubborn refusal to forgive is its own species of demon; it took getting to know my dad to realise that. When my Dad and I finally reunited, we built a guitar together, put it in a local woodworker’s show, and though it didn’t win any ribbons, did it ever look a prize with father’s and son’s names on it.
Through it all, I wouldn’t be me without all he did and didn’t do. I am me because of the withs and the withouts. It took my dad to make me me.
I suppose I should say that I grew up in America, where Father’s Day is in the middle of summer rather than the start of Spring. But it makes sense to me to position it as we in New Zealand do on the calendar. Spring is rebirth, to pick a cliché out of thin air. It’s a time when new stuff blooms, dormant through the winter and ready to show its colors. It’s a time when we bloom back out of our houses and on to the beaches and sausage sizzles and gear up for bursts of summer fun. We start to show our wild sides – our diversity.
And this is what Father’s Day is about, as far as I can tell, because Father’s Day isn’t about one guy. It’s about all of us. I’m not here to demonise bad dads or deify the good ones; I’m not here to judge anyone, because that’ll never be my place. All I want to say is that Father’s Day is not just about guys with kids. We all have fathers – even those we lost are still in us. We all have cause to pause and appreciate the diversity of men it takes to raise kids. Stay at home dad writers, woodworkers and luthiers, doctor dads, lawyer dads, teacher dads, rugby star dads, mayor dads, Family Guys, and the guy who left it to Beaver. We all share this experience of being fathered, and some have tried their hands at fathering as well. That’s about all there is to figure out.
This world’s got heaps of influences bearing on us all the time. I don’t mind singling out and being singled out one day of the year, especially if it jogs me to notice, once again, that I’m not alone. And that sometimes it takes a dad.