When I was a kid I saw my dad cry once, when his grandmother died. He was a strong father that could throw a pop fly up into the clouds, handle his liquor, close a deal, and entertain the “unlikable.” I never witnessed anyone not liking him, never heard a bad word spoken about him. He was someone I feared if I broke a rule and went against, but I was never scared of him. He gave hugs and kisses. At times, I can remember discussions of money and finance in the family household taking place, but I was never fearful for our family’s well-being. I trusted his leadership of our house. I can’t think of anything he did wrong, any reason to blame him—anything to tell a therapist. He was and is a good father.
Now, as a father, I sit here and think about how many of the positive traits I saw in my dad don’t exactly align with mine. My son has seen me cry countless times—with “Toy Story 3” playing the agitator in the most outlandish epic family moment. My son has seen me act “weird” with alcohol. He has seen me lose jobs through firings and layoffs. He has seen people not liking me (even hating me on social media) and the emotional weight it played on me. He has seen me risk it financially and he’s probably questioned whether to even ask for 5 dollars to buy a video game if it put us in the slightest financial risk. But, perhaps the worse was when he saw me lose his mom.
In my mind, when I “lost” Kiersten, I wanted to present a strength to him, but to also let him know I was hurting. That it was okay to hurt. That eventually, I was going to be fine. But, the reality was he too was dealing with it on his terms. He didn’t seem to necessarily need me to explain where I was in my thoughts, he didn’t need to see my cry, or get angry—he just wanted a dad to be around when he wanted a dad to be around. So, except for a few slip-ups when I became emotional in front of him, we stayed off the topic of “mom” for a majority of our three-year separation.
In my mind, I also had a role I envisioned him playing. He would look at me with great awe. He saw my emotional strength and clarity of vision, he excused my momentary lapses of misplaced emotional outbursts, he prayed for me at night that “dad would win back mom.” In other words, I envisioned a “Disney kid.” And, every time I mistakenly used that Disney frame of reference he fell short, but not because he did anything wrong. He was doing everything right for himself. He was finding his own balance to all of this AND his side as well included a woman he loved dearly.
Is/was avoidance the best policy? Again, I’m no expert in what works for others but here is what I know. My son knew what I thought of his mother, he knew I still loved her. He knew I was sad. So, if he knew those things to be true for me why bother reminding him? So, I choose to focus on the “fun.” I separated my fatherhood from husbandry. I opted to play more than preach and laugh more than teach. My one stipulation I told him was,
“I’ve already been to school and I graduated. I’m not interested in doing school again. I ask that you take care of that for yourself. I’ve got the rest covered.”
In other words, I asked him to be responsible for the areas in his life that he could affect. I just wanted him to know that I had “the house stuff” under control. I don’t believe that I ever truly convinced him to not worry, but I made it a point to identify where I didn’t need his help.
We found common ground in sharing movies together and (without saying) staying away from movies that hit too close to our home life. Years later we would learn what those movies were and laugh that we had the same idea and sensibility to avoid them.
I also opted to not “kiss and tell” about any dating I was doing. I never spoke about any prospects for any long-term relationships either. I never had women stay the night in my house when he (or my daughter) were present. While he knew I would go out, I never meshed the two worlds.
I learned quickly that by him saying, “Want to watch a movie tonight?” meant that he wanted some father time. It was an arm around the shoulder moment that was good for both of us.
Just like I did, I’m sure there will come a day when he (as a dad or husband) look at what I did and purposefully chose a different response, reaction, or even movie for the moment, and that’s okay. I won’t take it personal, it will be his story.
-- Scott Hathcock