Celebrating Fatherhood

I am lucky to have three important men in my life: my dad, my husband, and my son.

Two of those men are fathers, the third may become one someday. That’s his choice when he’s ready.

I wanted to spend a post talking about how much I love and respect these two fathers in honor of Father’s Day yesterday.

My Father

I could list all the things my father did like many Father’s Day posts do: sitting with me when I was sick, teaching me something important, or dispensing sage life advice when necessary. All of which he’s done.

Or I can write about two formative lessons he passed on to me. One was an individual incident and the other was taught my entire life.

While I was “daddy’s little girl,” that didn’t mean I had to be girly-girl. In fact, I was more like “daddy’s little tomboy” growing up. He taught me how to climb trees, build a tree house, shoot a bow, ride a bike, scare my mom, and not allow boys to push me around because I was a girl.

Never once growing up did I ever feel the need to adhere to a specific gender role from my father. He never told me “no” because it was unladylike, nor did he expect me to behave a certain way because that’s how it’s done according to gender.

He made sure I understood one thing: don’t be what other’s want you to be. Only be yourself.

One of the best examples of this in my life happened when I was around 11/12 years old:

I was in a prestigious ballet school in my home state and I started pointe several months prior. This meant I was at the school almost daily to practice for professional training. The plan was to be a professional ballerina someday, but I knew I would only be good enough for Corps, never Prima Ballerina.

One day, my instructor made us circle around her and one-by-one we would be called up to the barre next to her and stand in First Position. With each and every one of us, she would go point-by-point over what was wrong with our bodies. When she got to me, she scraped her nails up and down my outer thighs and hips, pinching the baby fat I still had in the area. I was told I needed to lose the fat there and on my inner thighs as well. She moved upwards and told me that I would need to do whatever it took to get my breasts under control as well. I did not have the shape for a ballerina. I needed to fix that “by any means necessary if I really wanted to be serious about a professional career.”

I remember unsuccessfully fighting back the tears and saying that both of these things were beyond my control. There wasn’t that much fat on my hips, so what she was telling me was physically impossible because of my hourglass shape. I could not diet my hips down no matter how hard I tried. As for my chest, I am still trying to figure out how to reduce its size without resorting to surgery even after all the weight I’ve lost recently.

She told me that wasn’t good enough and I would need to find some way to lose the weight. I may have been perceptive about my limitations, but I was dense with what she was implying I do in order to achieve the perfect ballerina body.

I don’t remember the conversation on the half-hour ride home that night with my parents, but I do remember that I was reading the book Kate’s Turn by Jeanne Betancourt (I later met the author and told her this story) at the time and it helped me make the decision my parents were hoping I would make. They didn’t want to pull me from the program because they knew it was a decision I needed to make myself, but they were encouraging me in that direction. They saw what I couldn’t see at the time: my teacher was encouraging an eating disorder.

Once the decision was made, my dad marched into the office to let them know what he thought about their teacher’s behavior and how it impacted a preteen’s self-esteem and body image. I was mortified because there was still that part of me that really wanted to be a ballerina, but I knew I couldn’t continue in this particular program.

Looking back on it, my father was protecting his child from a lifetime of pain and self-doubt. He could see what was going to happen: I would develop an eating disorder and my body would still not do what my teacher wanted. I would starve or purge myself to death and still not achieve the perfect ballet body according to the Company. While I saw my limitations at the time of the incident, had I stayed it would have been a matter of time before she wore me down and I discovered what she really meant by “any means necessary.”

I look at this incident as an example of how important accepting my body and myself was to my father. While life got in the way of this lesson from time-to-time, even to this day, it is important to my father that I find my own happiness and learn to love myself as I am, and not as others want me to be.

I also credit my father for helping me through my diagnosis, even if it was in an indirect manner. This isn’t to say he wasn’t there every single day I was in the hospital prior to my diagnosis, because he was. No, it was his dark sense of humor I grew up with that helped me make it through. When I started cracking jokes about my MS and my situation, my family was able to relax and know that I was going to be alright even if the situation sucked.

Teaching me to find humor, even if it’s dark and somewhat inappropriate, in bad situations was a big lesson I credit my father for that was probably lifesaving. I reached some dark points in my life that may stem from MS-induced depression, but if I could think of a joke to myself or share it with someone else, it would break through the darkness temporarily. Those breaks would help me move forward enough to get away from any emotional pain I was feeling at the time.

Even now, as I deal with improving my overall mental and emotional health, I turn to humor as a means to redirect anger into something less intrusive and positive.

I already see that my father is passing these two specific lessons on to Jai (the first may come later as Jai gets older) which I think is important. When things get tough, knowing to be true to himself and laughing in the face of adversity will get him through a lot of stuff.

Ash as a Father

Growing up I didn’t want to have children. I was afraid of the responsibility and I was afraid I would be a terrible mother. I was in one long-term relationship and several short ones (if you could even call them that) before I met Ash. I could not see myself being a parent with any of these partners.

By the second date with Ash, I was wanting to try websites that would give you the image of future children by combining pictures of two partners into some grotesque chimera. I refrained because I was afraid he would somehow find out about this silly nonsense, but I was genuinely curious to see what any children would look like with him.

I will be honest – it also had a lot to do with the fact that we’re both biracial and I was curious if that would create a cute baby. Spoiler: I think it did.

I stuffed those feelings down the longer we dated and the more we talked on the matter of children. Neither of us wanted kids for the time being and I was happy with that decision until biology came a-knockin’.

The reason why I instantly knew I wanted to have kids with Ash? Because of what I saw in him.

I met this kind, compassionate, intelligent, sweet, humorous, attractive man who had all the same interests I did. He respected me and did not want to control me in any way. He supported all that I did and when we adopted two furbabies, he took such good care of them that I knew he’d be a fantastic father if the time came.

Fortunately for Jai, my instincts were spot on.

Ash is an amazing father. I watch him take over when he gets home from work and he plays and reads to Jai while I take a break or finish making supper. He watches out for Jai and worries about him in ways I’ve never seen him worry before. Ash is super chill about everything, but when it comes to Jai I’ve had to reassure Ash that everything will be fine even if he just put in a fistful of dirt in his mouth.

It’s a great balance to my more laid-back approach.

Yesterday, watching them play, Ash is not afraid to show affection for his son, something that is so important for boys growing up. He hugs and kisses Jai when he can and you can see that Jai loves every second of it.

The Fragility of Parenthood

I am extremely lucky that my father is alive and healthy. Every Mother’s and Father’s Day I see the posts on social media by friends and acquaintances who wish a parent was still alive.

I try to tell my parents I love them, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like I say it enough given the fragility of life. I can just hear my parents saying as they read this: “we aren’t near death yet, geez.” No, that’s not what I mean. As I get older, as the world gets darker, as friends lose their parents, as I am reminded of my own mortality…I recognize that every day I have with my parents is a gift.

As much as it pains me to think about this, and it’s very hard to contemplate, I recognize that a day will come when I can no longer text my mom some bit of celebrity gossip. When I can’t sit in the back of our home and sip Scotch with my father, talking about anything and everything.

So I try to cherish these moments when I have them. I go for runs with my mom and at the end, while I don’t say it to her, I think about how proud I am for her wanting to do this activity with me. She has her own reasons to stay healthy, but I really love the time we spend together even if it’s grueling physical exertion.

My dad and I used to go out on “dates” when I was a little girl every Saturday or so. We haven’t been able to do that since I’ve gotten older and have a family of my own, but it’s something I miss and hope we can resume someday. I keep forgetting to ask him and writing this part of the post makes me realize I shouldn’t wait too long and just say something.

The same goes for Ash: I recognize that he can be taken from me at any moment. It’s why I say “I love you” as often as I can and try to show him that I don’t take him for granted and appreciate all he does for Jai and myself.

Fatherhood’s Influence on Jai

All of that is to say, Jai is lucky to have my father and Ash in his life and I hope they will both be there for him for a very long time. My hope is that should Jai want to become a father he will look to his grandfather and father as examples of what to do. How to be patient, soft-spoken, caring, and affectionate. Make jokes, have fun, but accept himself.

Watching these two men interact with Jai – the joy and the love the pour into him – makes my heart swell with pride and love for them. It is clear that Jai is the center of their world’s as much as he is mine.

Both Jai and I are extremely lucky to have these two fathers in our lives.

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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography

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