Anointed a Father – an Essay
I fell in love with my child the first time I held him. When he looked up at me, I claimed him as my son and declared myself his father. But shouldn’t it take more? A father is a teacher, protector, role model, even a disciplinarian, but at that point in his life I had only shared my body heat and provided a small sense of comfort. I had given myself a title without putting forth the effort or understanding that it’d be up to him to appoint me the position. Like farmers, fathers plant seeds, watch them sprout with pride, and provide them with nutrients and an environment sustainable for growth. Unfortunately, we often stop there. These actions only address physical necessities, so how can we offer only this and expect emotional connection in return?
Shortly after my son’s birth, I returned to work. I was in the Television industry, and my job would often require that I arrive early and leave late. This gave me just enough time to kiss my still sleeping son goodbye in the morning, and play with him for about an hour when I got home. Yes, a roof was over his head, and food stayed on his high chair table – both figuratively and literally – but I didn’t feel present enough. My wife would call, email pictures and videos, or even try to re-create his accomplishments when I returned home, but I wasn’t there to see them firsthand. She could identify what each cry meant; I couldn’t tell if he was screaming with joy or distress. I felt that she had solidified her position as a mother to him, but he only saw me as that nice man that came over at night.
I feel similarly about my own father. He never lived in my house, called me on the phone, or provided financially, but every so often, he would pick me up and take me somewhere fun. I like the guy, but I never felt significantly influenced by his presence in my life. He asked me to call him dad when I was five years old – prior to that, I called him Big Allen – and though I complied, it wasn’t my conscious or personal decision to anoint him with the title.
When I reached high school – though I already possessed the man’s first two names – he asked me to consider taking his last name. Keep in mind, at that point, I had identified as Allen Merck for fourteen years. It suited me. Every member of my immediate family was a Merck. It was part of my identity, but he, having fathered no other male heirs, wanted me to change to further his own legacy. The request didn’t upset me, but I was shocked. Did I owe him something? Was the market price for Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp special worth my sense of self? If so, I would have been fine with the cheddar biscuits. In the end, I just redirected the question, and when he reached out three months later to go to Ponderosa, he didn’t bring it back up. Your kids don’t owe you anything, and you shouldn’t expect them to be you. If you value the idea of passing on a legacy, you need to make an effort early and often in your child’s life.
I recently left the Hollywood, and now work as an educator. As a result, I spend more time at home and am able to see my son’s growth and progression. He knows I’m Daddy and I’m constantly working to solidifying the role. He trusts me and knows that I’m there for him. He possesses many of my physical characteristics, but his mental and emotional makeup are a byproduct of my influence, as well.
My devotion to him is slowly being reciprocated, but I’m realizing, more, that it’s not about that. I’m dedicated to my son because I love him, not because I want him to be dedicated to me. I don’t want him to make changes in his life to make me proud; I want him to make changes that benefit his life. I don’t want him to be me. I want him to take my knowledge, skills, and anything else I can provide, and build upon them to define himself. Then, I won’t need any compensation, because I would have already been a part of it all.
I still worry if I’m doing enough at times. I get distracted, exhausted and busy. I can’t always offer him the attention he desires, but fatherhood isn’t defined by any single act. Failures come as often as victories, but you can’t stop trying. You always have to put in work and continue to prove yourself worthy to be a father.