This month as we consider the irreplaceable role of fathers, my thoughts and feelings have led me to conclude that every father steps into fatherhood with a bit of uncertainty and trepidation and then continues to step up to the responsibilities it includes. It was so with my dad. From my vantage point of nearly 70 years beyond my birth, my heart is full of gratitude for my father–a man not quite 30 years old with two other children and a wife depending on him to step up to provide not only sustenance, but nurturing. Like nearly all men, he had strengths and struggles, successes and failures. Fortunately for me, I never doubted that he loved me and the rest of our family which grew to include three more children.
My father’s story began as the son of a young father and his wife who both died by the time he was two years old. He and I and the rest of his posterity have been blessed by a childless uncle and aunt who loved him as their own. We called them Grandpa and Grandma and never doubted that they loved us, especially because they chose to step in and step up to become parents and eventually grandparents with great love and sacrifice.
The father of our children, my beloved husband Clyde, took the first steps in his fatherhood journey shortly after our first wedding anniversary. He often shows his love by the way he worries over me and our children. He too made sacrifices of money, leisure, and personal pursuits to step up to the plate and do his best to develop the skills and experience needed to create a “home run” of a home for me and our five children.
Clyde came with a bonus: an amazing father named Rendell who threatened Clyde that he was going to propose to me for him if he didn’t do it himself. Once that detail was taken care of and we were married, Rendell loved and accepted me as a daughter, perhaps in part because he and his wife Veone had four sons and no daughters. He teased me, encouraged me, recovered chairs from their old dining set for us, loved our children, and filled a void I had felt in my life after my parents were divorced and my dad died before we had any children.
We have LOVED watching our sons and sons-in-law navigate the fatherhood freeway, stepping in and stepping up to father their own children–as well as nieces and nephews and a few unrelated kids and athletes–with strength and tenderness that brings me to tears. Recently I watched one of them firmly hug a fretting child until she eventually melted into his embrace. Another expressed only relief that no one was hurt when his wife totaled their newest and best car. Finally, one took the stage at his daughter’s dance recital to dance with her to music with lyrics that include, “I need a man who loves me like my father loves my mom.” (Source: Musixmatch Songwriters: Wayne Andrew Wilkins / Jacqueline Miskanic Like My Father lyrics © Happy Home Publishing Llc, Blow The Speakers Llc) Without exception, these fathers love their wives, make them their top priority, and have built interdependent relationships with them. These attitudes and examples are generational. I see their children watching and modeling attributes learned from their parents.
There are other fathers in my life, and in the lives of many around me, who step in and step up to love and nurture children who are not theirs biologically. They remind me of my Grandpa and Grandma who gave this gift to my father and all of our family. Some marry and gain bonus children and grandchildren, but some just open their hearts and arms and father children in other settings. These life-changing “step-in and step-up” father figures in my life include my friends’ dads, a school bus driver, many teachers in school and church, and beloved uncles, cousins, and brothers. I’m surrounded by other examples right in my neighborhood of this powerful type of fatherhood. There are single and widowed moms and grandmas who valiantly pinch-hit for absent fathers, a grandpa who spends time and money preparing a pool for his kids and grandkids that he’ll never use himself, grandparents who essentially become parents to their grandchildren, and coaches who help children discover their gifts and passions as they master game skills and life skills. Last but not least, those who take simple steps to enrich childrens’ lives by noticing them and talking to them–learning their names, their hobbies, and their dreams.
Pat’s video reminds us that the role of father is truly irreplaceable, but it can be filled by nearly anyone who is willing to simply be aware and available and then step in and step up.