Have You Ever Defined Fatherhood?

“Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill

I don’t know many men who have had the privilege to discuss with their fathers what it truly means to be a father. We discuss the duties of fatherhood. The desire to see our children succeed, however that may be. Stories of being faithful, hardworking, sacrifice, and the like, are told to us through movies and our elders.

My father is a good man, he showed me all that I mention above and more. He’s still married to my mother, which is saying something these days. He’s bailed me out of more situations than I can count as a child. I’m mildly successful in what I do, and I give a crap about being a good husband and father.

We talk about all kinds of things. Every stupid question about what’s going on with my home and how to fix it. What in the world Jerry was thinking with the latest Cowboys trade. How I can connect with my parents as they age. Why he needs to listen to the television so damn loud.

He did his job to be sure. I’m just not sure I remember talking to him about what being a good father means.

Like many, I was raised in the church where my only real lessons of what fatherhood was like came from who God is. I do not demean these lessons, because it helped craft me into a decent human being that fights for the right things in life. I’m just not sure that really told me how to be a father looking back.

Yes, service is important to your children. My father taught me to serve others is to pursue virtue at its highest form. Sitting idle means you’re letting someone else do the work you should be doing. Saying no must be considered carefully, for ego gets in the way a hell of a lot.

Fast forward 30 years to my entrance into the seas of parenthood. My first wife and I split when the kids were young (my youngest doesn’t really remember it). I had plenty to do with the failure of my marriage even though neither of us really did anything truly wrong. Divorce is hard, and bitter, and those feelings fade with great difficultly.

I do feel appreciated as a father now. My wife Beth is a huge part of me seeing myself differently, and she will never let me forget how much I matter to our three kids combined into the amazing blended family you see today. Some days I feel like an amazing father.

Just not on the day set aside for me.

Since its in the summer, I’ve never really had a full day with all three because one is with his dad on the day, and the other two always head back to their mother before it gets too late.

Since they are all getting older, it becomes increasingly difficult. Camps, summer trips, parties, and other random things part of kids aging into teens always manage to keep the day short for me.

And this year was no different.

I came up with a genius idea of doing Father’s Day on Saturday because it would allow for a full day of us all together. More summer activities came up though, and I was in a severe state of depression as I headed to the gym. I was going to walk a few miles on the treadmill and just lick my wounds on the way home.

Thankfully Winston Churchill wouldn’t let me give up that easily.

I’ve been watching Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman as the former British PM lately for some leadership inspiration. So as I started a light jog and fired up my iPad, I wondered how I would respond to what the world was laying at my feet.

And I ran.

Just as Churchill is being begged by all around him to negotiate peace with Hitler, he wonders if he has what it takes to lead the former Empire. Frankly, I don’t care what happened really. I saw on Oldman’s face the despair of giving up in the face of adversity.

There’s no reason to be a fool, people say to him. Listen to reason. The army is going to be wiped out in Dunkirk, and Italy is willing to play third party negotiator between Churchill and Hitler. He’s about to give up.

It’s a feeling I have often as a father. Do my kids even miss me when they are at the other parent’s house. If I didn’t call, would they even notice? Was I ever a real dad in the first place?

I crossed a mile without stopping.

It’s then in the story the king visits the PM in his home late at night. He encourages Winston to listen to the people. Ask them what they want. So he rides the tube with some people who are astonished to see a prime minister riding next to them. He takes down every one of their names and asks what they would do. And they say they would fight.

Funny how when you ask your kids how they feel about you…they tell you honestly. Not the mushy stuff they write in the cards. What they think about you on a random day. Turns out they see that its hard for me sometimes, and appreciate everything I can give them. I asked them if I mattered.

Two miles without stopping.

I have a lot of regrets in life. Giving up on my first marriage was not a good look. Regardless of it not working, and the happiness of us both afterwards is proof we weren’t meant to be. But I still bailed. I regret her moving 3 hours away from me and not fighting harder to get them back to Dallas so I could be closer. I regret every moment I’m more engaged in anything else other than their faces when all three kids are under my roof.

I regret looking at how I spend Father’s Day every year as a reflection on me as a father. How could I be dad if I was sitting alone? Surely the reflection of me in their eyes is nothing short of failure.

Deciding I can’t stop in the face of Oldman giving rousing speech after rousing speech, I kept running.

Three miles.

With tears streaming down my face in what must be the silliest view in a fitness facility, I cranked up the pace. After running 3 miles I sprinted with everything I had to the finish of a 5k. I didn’t walk one step until I was leaving the gym.

I wonder how the Sunday designated as Father’s Day feels to some of you out there. Perhaps your father wasn’t what you hoped he could have been. You might have another man (like Beth) who took the place of father in a way she needed, and will always be grateful. You might not even be on speaking terms with the man. Or it just might be another day.

There’s this notion of that day meaning something. If it does for you, I hope it always continues. Clearly there are a lot of factors out of my control that make the day difficult for me. But it’s not about that day that makes me a father.

Who I am does, and I choose to continue. That’s fatherhood to me.

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