“The nature of impending fatherhood is that you are doing something that you’re unqualified to do, and then you become qualified while doing it.” -John Green
For the past twenty months I have had the privilege of watching my son becoming a father. Contrary to what one might believe we are not, in the truest sense, mothers or fathers on the day our children are born. Becoming a parent is a process for which there is no personal blueprint. So much of what our children require of us we learn along the way.
When my parents married my mother was a teen-aged single mother of three. She was nineteen and my father was thirty-three. I used to wonder why my mom would marry a man so much older. It’s one of many questions I wished I’d asked before she passed away in 1994. Now I have only speculation and imagination to lean upon. Borrowing from what I was told and how intimately I came to know my mother I imagine her having been a vulnerable woman-child. Too young to have grown into the sophisticated judgment it takes to make wise decisions or to enter into the life altering commitment of matrimony. Perhaps it was a way to erase the blight of mothering outside of marriage. Perhaps her heart reached out for love even as her hand reached out for the potential security afforded in marriage. I like to think that if only for a moment she knew what it felt like to be loved and in love.
I was eighteen months old when they divorced. Too young to remember my father’s presence in our home. Too young to remember the beginning of his absence. He walked out of the door and away from my heart, never to return. I cannot recall the first or last time I saw him. I have no memory of his hugs or kisses, or of feeling the roughness of the stubbly beard I’d seen in tattered photographs against my soft skin. Where were the pats on the head, the jostling of my hair? That is what a fathers does, right? There are no recollections of our spending time together in my memory bank. Perhaps my wounded psyche withdrew them all when he didn’t rescue me. He was but a shadow that I longed to see in plain sight. He was but a silhouette devoid of touching, feeling, knowing, securing, or loving me. All of what encompasses a father he was not.
He was a man who was supposed to have fathered me but wouldn’t or perhaps couldn’t give himself over to becoming a father. As I write this I instinctively fall on my mother’s sage counsel. “A person can only give you what they have.” I never fail to find solace in those words.
It was not until I entered into a relationship with God that I experienced what it means to be truly fathered. So when I look at my son attaching all that he is and has to his baby girl my heart is lifted. He’s never given his heart to anyone or anything the way he does to his first-born. He is becoming, in every sense of the word and its multifaceted meaning—a father.
He worries so much about her that I in turn worry about him worrying about her. I believe this is the cycle of parenting a parent. It has been my experience mothering a father.
The sting of my loss is assuaged by my granddaughter’s gain. Knowing she is being fathered has somehow become a healing balm spread gently over the wound of my fatherlessness. Sure there are still times when I wonder what difference it would have made had my father stepped out of the shadows. I will always wish he had become the father every little girl longs for, every little girl deserves.
Becoming a father is developing, testing the waters, charting unknown territory, failing and succeeding. It is at once knowing the heights of joy in getting it right and the depths of despair in getting it wrong. Both are inevitable. In Dana’s becoming he is destined to be one of the reflections in which Berkeley will one day see her worth and her value. He is becoming a compass by which she will navigate the life she was born to live.
The day I brought my infant son home from the hospital I was hovering over him in his crib. My mother walked into the room and said “You are a mother now and will be for the rest of your life. From this day on you will worry. Learn how to manage it so it does not drive you crazy. No matter how old he gets you will worry about him.” Of course she was right. As our children grow the things we worry about change. These days when I catch myself worrying about my son worrying so much about his daughter, I have only to remember my mother’s words. Her words are the place where I can gather my thoughts and emotions and place them within that manageable place called peace.
One of the last things my mother said to me was that she thought I was a good mother. It was the single most important compliment I have ever received. Coming from the single most important person in my life. My mother expended her energies, time, and love in giving herself over to becoming a mother. She was not perfect. No parent is. Her willingness to keep on becoming sent an indelible message that has anchored me throughout my life. I am worth it.
My son’s journey in becoming a father is so natural it hardly gathers thought. For it is born out of loving what is intricately joined to him.
I know that God will one day find my granddaughter. For this I have prayed. When she meets the Father whose love knows no bounds, she will have a reference by which to trust his love. She will sense the familiarity of what it is to be fathered.