What Do Dads Do?

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The first Father’s Day card I bought I was 26 years old. I picked my son up from daycare and drove a few minutes down the street to Walmart. I stood in that aisle looking at cards for much longer than I needed. Should I get a funny card or something serious? Should the card be from my son to his dad or from me to my husband? Should I get him two cards? I was overwhelming myself over a card my husband would read once and put aside, but I didn’t care. It was important to me that I make this special for him.

Flash forward a few years later and my son asked me if he could meet my father. At that moment I would have rather discussed finite math or where babies come from. The truth is, he had met my father-his grandfather. They had even had a full conversation. He was just too young to remember it. When my kids think of fatherhood, they think of their dad. The person who plays games with them, drops them off at school, watches them ride their bikes, their protector. I didn’t have those thoughts at their age. My thoughts of a dad were from what I saw on TV. I thought of Carl Winslow or Uncle Phil. Not of someone who was living and breathing in a house with me. Having to explain to my son about my fractured relationship with my dad, I felt like I was taking part of his innocence. I could tell from the look in his eyes he was having trouble understanding why a dad wouldn’t be around. He had friends who had parents that were divorced and had step-parents, but he didn’t have friends who had a parent that was willingly absent.

Based on my experience of not having a dad around, I had trouble knowing where my husband fit into our family. What did he do? I would make plans for the baby and myself, but I would leave my husband out. I was not doing this intentionally. I did want him around. I needed him around. I just didn’t know what his role was. Was he supposed to go to the zoo with us? Did he need to go to the pediatrician’s office? It was difficult to grasp that he wanted to be around and do things with us.

To say the relationship my father and I have is fractured is an understatement. It’s difficult to reconcile decades of absence. I’ve never purchased a Father’s Day card for my father. It’s sad to say, but I don’t think I ever will. To answer my own question, what do dads do? It ultimately depends on who you ask. I’m forever grateful that my kids have a different experience and they can say dads give big hugs, make yummy food, and can play for hours on end.

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