"A father carries pictures where his money used to be."
I love being a dad. I mean, I LOVE BEING A DAD. I have three amazing sons. Each one of them is as unique from the other two as any three boys could be, but each one of them amazes me.
My oldest is 17 years old. He was born with Craniosynostosis and has had fairly significant developmental, learning, and socio-behavioral challenges from day one. He is simple in his approach to life and loves deeply. He is also a world-class pain in the ass. He is as sarcastic and obstinate as any kid could be. But every day is a new opportunity for him to be better, more independent, and catch up just a little bit more.
My middle child is 15 years old and top of his class in every subject, successful athlete, successful musician, overachiever through and through. Yet despite all his accolades, it is his goodness that inspires me. He also struggles with anxiety, articulating his feelings, and can retreat into himself too easily. But he is kind, and patient, and giving, and a better person than I will ever be.
My youngest is 3 years old. This one is the one to look out for. He owns the world and he knows it. He has learned how to work a room and will take every opportunity to do so. He is smart, and sweet, and funny as hell.
As a family, we value humor and my boys have picked up that it is through humor that attention is best achieved. So, we pants each other in the kitchen while someone is in the fridge. Or we tell a dirty joke to see if mom will react. It is rare that I don’t get three or four memes texted to me during the day. We also value work. I emphasize working together on common goals. That can be routine housework or special projects. The oldest hates it and none of them like it, but I believe that as men, it is through shared work that we bond the best. We play games, we hike, and we watch movies. I like to teach my boys how to treat others and use tools. Being a dad is everything to me.
...we tell a dirty joke to see if mom will react.
So yes, I love Father’s Day. Not because I get to take the day easy or because I finally get a little recognition or because I got an Instant Vortex Plus Air Fryer (which is super cool, by the way), but because it is a day that I can codify my love for my boys and for the role that I play in their lives.
However, it is also a day that I reflect on what it means to me to be a dad and their dad specifically. I lament over the fact that I am not better at it. Every time I dismiss one of them, I know that I missed an opportunity to share their world. Every time I choose to do something without them when they have asked for time with me, I know that I threw away a piece of time that I will never have again. Every time that I get frustrated and raise my voice, I know that they will look at me a little differently.
I can be lazy, selfish, and impatient in ways that embarrass me. But most of all, I hate that they have to carry the burden of my baggage. I have brought into fatherhood an avoidant personality that has not only provided them with a lack of extended community but has not modeled for them the importance of sacrificial intimacy. I have also too often allowed what should be healthy doubt to be exposure to cynicism.
Despite these failures, I also rejoice that my boys are growing into men (except for the 3-year-old, obviously). I get to enjoy a slow transition in our relationships from father-son to friend. Ultimately, what I learn about who I am through fatherhood is that I am somehow able to value intimacy while being so bad at living it. I long for true connection with others and to experience a radical community. I desire to have the ability to give myself to others completely without fear of rejection. But I also see that I too often settle for a common intimacy that is built on familiarity. Bonhoeffer might even coin “cheap intimacy” after spending some time with me.
I’m kind of a fanboy of developmental psychologist Erik Erikson. According to Erikson, the developmental stage associated with intimacy is juxtaposed with isolation. It typically occurs during young adulthood and fits between Identity vs. Role Confusion during adolescents and Generativity vs. Stagnation during middle adulthood. I, by the way, am sadly in middle adulthood with what should be a healthy focus on creating something that outlives me.
While these stages are not absolute and we can easily deal with any one of them throughout our lives, often returning to stages that had previously been developed, there should still be some degree of linear progression. Ideally, I would have fully mastered Intimacy at this stage of my life, but as you get to know me better you will see, I am still a little stuck in figuring out who I am. While I slid through young adulthood and achieved many of the goals associated with Intimacy, I surely didn’t master it. And now, in middle adulthood, a stage when my focus is on nurturing and creating (which parenthood naturally forces), I sometimes worry that I lack the foundation required to meet these requirements with integrity.
Also key to Erikson’s theory is the role of society in that development. How the individual interacts with his/her immediate and extended community will immediately impact one’s development. While development is strictly an independent activity, it happens within one’s context. My context has at times been an asset to my development. I, in no way, want to diminish the privilege, opportunities, communities, etc. that have meant so much to me, but it would be ignorant to not acknowledge how many of my own personal “contexts” have inhibited me. While still my responsibility, I have too often allowed myself to have unacceptable excuses for lack of empathy, commitment, and sacrifice.
Over Father’s Day weekend this year, I have reflected on these things. I have considered this aspect of my growth and the challenges that I have faced as someone that is trying to understand who I am in light of new norms for spiritual formation. I have realized that I have too often focused on that very identity in this process and have neglected something far more deficient. Community has for too long been self-serving. And intimacy has for too long been about comfort. I want to model for my sons this aspect of adulthood and yet I keep others at arm’s length. Father’s Day reminds me of the person I want to be. My children remind me why I want to be that person.
Father’s Day reminds me of the person I want to be. My children remind me why I want to be that person.
Craig Morton is a contributing writer for American None. He has a Ph.D. in Higher Education but is famous for being a Master of the Grill.