Fatherhood was a role he felt unqualified to fill, but he had the best role-model of all.
- Posted on Oct 30, 2008
Our wedding was at our minister's house. A small group of friends crowded into the living room. All of them had told me they were happy for me because I'd finally found the woman of my dreams.
We made our vows and I fumbled for the ring to put on Kathy's finger. I almost dropped it because all I could think of was the boy standing next to me, Kathy's seven-year-old son, Jonathan.
My own father was out of the picture for most of my growing up. Mom had to do it all on her own, working full-time while raising five kids. The milestones of my life passed without any dad. Baseball games, high school graduation, college, even this—my wedding day.
The Friday night Kathy and I returned from our honeymoon, she called to me, "Come help tuck in Jonathan."
I listened to the long list of the stuffed animals and action figures he prayed for. He finished with, "God, please remember Fred the monkey and Spidey, and be with Mommy and my new dad, Glen."
My new dad, Glen. I should have been flattered. Instead my hands grew clammy. I don't know anything about being a dad.
Kathy had a hair appointment the next day. I was supposed to hang out with Jonathan. "What'll I do with him all afternoon?" I asked.
"You'll find something," Kathy said. "Just be yourself." She gave me a hug and a kiss and was out the door.
Now what? I popped my head into Jonathan's room. He had some battle going on between a row of stuffed animals on one side of his bed and some action figures on the other. "Hey, Glen," he said, looking up. "Let's play UNO."
It took me a second to remember that UNO was a card game. "Sure," I said. We sat at the kitchen table and played while he told me stories about his friends, his teachers and cartoon characters I couldn't keep straight.
I nodded, but I was sure he knew I was faking it. I practically sagged with relief when Kathy walked through the door.
That's how it felt with all the dad things. I yelled for Jonathan on the sidelines at his soccer games, pumping my fist in the air like other dads. Crammed behind a student desk on parent-teacher night, I took notes along with my fellow dutiful dads.
Yet I felt lost, as if everything I did was an impersonation of a dad.
Homework was the worst. One night the kitchen table was sprinkled with pink dust from Jonathan's eraser. He was working on a math problem. Finally he burst out, "I can't do this!"
I put my hand on his shoulder and looked at his paper. Math had never been my strong point. Jonathan gazed at me imploringly. I looked down at the numbers but drew a blank. "I'm sorry, Jonathan," I said. "I'm not sure how to do it either."
I'd let him down. I stepped outside for some fresh air and looked up at the moonless sky. An autumn chill crisped the air. God, I'm no good at this dad stuff. Do something.
Kathy did the disciplining. But one day Jonathan and a friend got into my things. A definite infraction. Kathy wouldn't be back for a couple hours. I hauled him into his room and sat him down on the bed. "You know the rule," I said.
He didn't argue. He didn't make excuses. He simply dissolved into tears. "Jonathan, you need to stay in here by yourself for a while and think about it." I closed the door, but through it I could hear every sob. He'll never speak to me again, I thought. He'll hate me.
Yet that night Jonathan grabbed me for a game of UNO. I read him a bedtime story and heard his prayer. "God, remember Fred the monkey and Spidey, and be with Mommy and my new dad, Glen." I was still on the list.
New Year's Eve the three of us were driving to a get-together across town. A few miles from our house Kathy said, "Glen, you turned the wrong way." I realized she was right, and made a U-turn. "Just think," I joked, "I almost made it through the whole year without making a single mistake."
Kathy stifled a laugh. Then Jonathan chimed in from the backseat, "He almost made it!" I assumed he was teasing me. I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw those serious dark-brown eyes.
He wasn't joking. He believes it. He really thinks I could have made a perfect year. I had been so intent on seeing my own inadequacies that I had not stopped to see myself through my new stepson's eyes.
Implausible as it was, he saw me as the nearest thing to perfection he knew. Wasn't that how all kids wanted to see their dads? How I'd wanted to see my dad? Wouldn't I have been willing to overlook all my father's faults just to have him next to me?
In the end there was only one perfect Father, the Father I'd turned to so often in my own life, as I had that cool clear autumn night when I asked for help with Jonathan.
I've been around for the milestones of Jonathan's life. Not long ago he asked me to be best man in his wedding. It reminded me of my own wedding to his mom. This time I wasn't nervous at all as we stood together in front of the minister.
"The ring, please," the minister said.
I pulled it out of my pocket and handed it to my son. No fumbling this time, though a little imperfection would have been perfectly all right.
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