In this post Chris shares his experience of being a solo dad and the feelings he has about Father’s Day.
It was December 2009, my oldest son Harrison was three. He came up to me and said in a very firm voice, “Daddy, I need to tell you something.” I said, “Yes, Harrison?”, to which he replied simply, “I love you Daddy.” On another occasion we were in the car and passed a large mobile crane. Harrison obviously took it all in, thought about it, and declared, “Daddy, when I grow up I want a big red crane with two white hookers!”.
Harrison started talking very well at quite an early age, and my ex-wife had the brilliant idea of keeping a dedicated book so that we could record all his little gems. It makes for essential reading for our closest friends who know about this book, and seek it out whenever they come over. We started a separate book for our second son, Levi, which has become just as priceless in so many ways.
Harrison is now eight, and Levi five, so the priceless quotes don’t come so readily as the boys are more aware of what they say. But I regularly read, and re-read, both journals. They are a unique record of a very special time in my life as a father – my own sons grappling with how to express what they are feeling, thinking and observing, oblivious to any double-meaning or outright innocent humour. The realisation that many years ago, my parents observed the same with me and my brother. And now I get to look upon my own children, watching them grow, and to experience the sobering realisation that I am a father… I am their father. And what does that mean, when it is so easy to remember being a child myself, a teenager, university, exams, parties, sport, … how did I become a dad, when my own childhood memories are still so clear and fresh that it seems almost absurd to think of myself as someone on which two young children are now so dependent.
And yet here I am, a dad. I remember hearing a long time ago, likely from someone much wiser than me, that children are the ultimate body-blow to self-centredness. Well that should be true, but sadly we live in a world where so many parents still put themselves first as much as possible, and families and children pay the price.
As I approach this Father’s Day with the task of pondering what it means for me, I can’t help but realise the cost of being a father. The hours in each day I need to be focussed on the needs of my children – getting them up and ready for school, taking them to school, helping with homework, bath-time, stories, weekend fun-times and activities… not to mention guiding them through their emotional and spiritual growth, and dealing with, well, life! The list just goes on. Being a father costs me. It costs me time, money, my own interests, my own needs.
Being a solo dad, my social life has been hammered, and to maintain any level of a healthy social network seems to take extraordinary effort, and I am only just beginning to rebuild it. But that’s the least of my worries! Being a dad, I get wrestled in bed on Sunday mornings, interrupted to mediate on squabbles, I spend an hour “encouraging” my boys to eat a dinner that should have taken fifteen minutes to eat… I spend ages filing school certificates, awards, artwork, and photographs – when I could be having me-time. And when I am shattered and exhausted, my eldest son still insists I lie next to him and read before he goes to bed, simply because he loves the closeness, and lying next to his daddy with his eyes shut, his arm around my chest, just listening. Father and son time.
A father’s heart doesn’t keep a record of the cost and sacrifices made for his children. It doesn’t ask, “Why should I make a sacrifice?, rather it asks, “Why wouldn’t I make a sacrifice?”. The question was once asked to a crowd, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” It is, of course, a rhetorical question. But without necessarily expressing their needs, my sons ask for my total and complete love, and my constant sacrifice. But is this a cost for me? If I am honest, I am well aware of the cost to me of raising children. I share this with every parent. The revelation of being a father is realising just how much of myself I can give up,
I can sacrifice, and yet consider myself infinitely richer as a consequence. I don’t measure the cost, rather I delight in the rewards of investing in my children as best I can. The intangible treasure that is your own child’s arm around you, the insistence on a kiss and a cuddle before lights are turned out at bedtime, the joy on their faces when they come home and see you waiting for them, or the simple act of them snuggling in close when sitting together watching a movie.
Thinking about this Father’s Day, for the first time, I get it! I get Father’s Day. I know why it means something to me as a father. It’s not about any gift I might receive, or if my boys realise the significance of the day (which they won’t, being too young), and I feel no regret or sadness at no longer having a wife to give me a card and a kiss, and to spend the day with. My gift is the pure delight my boys instil in me whenever I think of them, the random times they will simply declare, “I love you Daddy”, even in public. There won’t be any special family day out, no great fuss, just a quiet day. I will do something with my boys, take them to the park, go cycling somewhere, maybe take them out for lunch to a place of their choice. It won’t be a day of doing what I want… because where is the joy and the pleasure in that for my boys? No, Father’s Day for me will be a normal day – doing what needs to be done, but making sure that Harrison’s and Levi’s needs are met throughout the day. Because they are my children, and it’s the only way I can imagine being a father to them.
For me, whatever cost I have borne as a father, it is amply rewarded in this, “Daddy, I have your love, and you have my love.” (Levi, aged four). I wish all fathers a Father’s Day where you might find time to reflect not on the sacrifices you have made, willingly or otherwise, but on what you mean to your children. I hope you can all find immense satisfaction in the immeasurable gift they are to you, and that we would all see our children as a gift beyond compare.