Being a father is one of the most important parts of my identity. So I am trying to make sense of fatherhood in this new blog series which I am calling Father Stories. I find value in writing about the things most important to me and that writing can lead to some clarity. Maybe I am writing this blog because I think of fatherhood as an accomplishment. But, being a father is very different from other life accomplishments like completing a degree program, getting a job, or winning an award. These accomplishments are framed by ambition and the tireless pursuit of a specific goal. They usually have a defined process and timeline. On the other hand being a father is subtle, protracted, blurry, and timeless. It is changing diapers and countless hours on a playground. It is a difficult conversation followed by a walk through Morningside Park. It is saying no, getting treated poorly, but still feeling like you did the right thing. It is an unexpected hug and a meaningful exchange when you least expect it. It is your children wanted to go camping in the woods because it means spending time with you even though that might not be the way it is expressed by your adolescent child. Writing these few examples down is emotional for me because it touches upon deep parts of myself. I don’t usually talk about the deep parts of myself, but come to think of it that is something that I learned from my own father.
Being a father is something you do because that is what you signed up for. It is what you sometimes love to do and sometimes struggle to get through. Sometimes being a father is getting undue credit because so little is expected of fathers compared to mothers. And yet fatherhood is the most meaningful thing I have done with my life. Sometimes fatherhood is just the air you breath and you don’t notice it. Other times it wells up inside you and you are overcome with emotion.
That is what happened to me a few weeks ago when my family visited the Kazakh Consulate in midtown Manhattan. We were invited for coffee so that our adopted children could meet with the diplomatic arm of the country where they were born. It was exciting to be invited and Daphne and I jumped at the opportunity. I rushed out of school right at 3:20pm so that I could get to our 4pm appointment on time. We all walked into the building on 44th street and boarded an elevator to the 12th floor. We met with the Consulate General and his office staff and enjoyed cake and coffee. I was excited to show off our wonderful children. We talked about Erlan’s love of politics and desire to pursue a career of diplomacy himself. We shared Ainyr’s commitment to education and improving the lives of children. I mentioned the AP Psychology class she is taking this year. We also shared the fact that Erlan has been studying the Kazakh language since he was 12 years old. After I mentioned it, Erlan began a performance that appeared rehearsed. He spoke for a full seven minutes in Kazakh introducing our family and telling various facts about our story. As he was talking I realized that despite the fact that I had little idea what he was saying, I was proud of him. I was impressed with this extended speech. Maybe these feelings came from my experience in the Peace Corps many years ago, living in a foreign country, but I knew that Erlan had somehow anticipated the cultural expectations of the people in the room and rose to meet them. But more than just being surprised and impressed, this moment made me think about fatherhood.
Becoming a father has not always been the easiest journey for me. My own father died this past spring which has led to some serious reflection on my part. On the one hand my father gave me so much, my love of nature, my inclination to reverse engineer the world, an appreciation of the simplicity of life, and a love of food. One summer when I was close to the age of 10 we drove to Newfoundland. We arrived in a small town called Saint Andrews-by-the-Sea which happened to have a fancy hotel built in the style of a Swiss Chalet. My mother had done some research and determined that on this particular Sunday morning the hotel was hosting an all you can eat brunch that was well reviewed. We arrived shortly before the 11 am start of the event having skipped breakfast that morning despite an early wake up allowing us to arrive at brunch on time. We paid the exorbitant cost, according to my father, to enter the event and then we were seated. Growing up in an upper middle class family that lived by the ethos of my depression era father is a whole other story. But on this day we were going to enjoy ourselves and eat our fill. We explored the different rooms of buffet offerings considering how to best maximize the value of this meal. There was seafood in one room, a large roast beef in another. Avoiding the cheaper starchy offerings such as potatoes was noted. By the end we were so full that we skipped food for the rest of the day. But despite the fact that this story demonstrates the extent of money consciousness my father brought to our family, it also embodies how he cherished experiences, family, vacations and enjoyment. This story sums up many aspects of my father’s personality and ultimately how I experienced the idea of fatherhood. My favorite memories of my childhood were from these seemingly extravagant experiences when we traveled during the summer.
On the other hand, my father left some voids. He was not always the most emotionally giving parent. I did not doubt the love he had for me, but there were times when I could have used a little more emotional and physical affection. I still struggle to show emotion and physical affection with others.
Becoming a father to Erlan and Aiynr has pushed me in many ways. While I am not the kind of parent who gives endless hugs and kisses, I have tried to be there for my children and let them know that my love for them is unconditional. Being a father is sometimes about doing things that don’t come naturally like saying “I love you” even when such words were absent from my childhood home. Or saying “I’m sorry”, to model apologizing for my children, despite the fact those words don’t come easily for me.
Sitting in the Kazakh consulate that day, being proud of my children, maybe feeling a little proud of myself, made me reflect more on what it means to be a father. I guess for me being a father is about coming full circle in my life, repairing some old wounds, discovering some parts of myself that I forgot about, and growing in ways that I would not have imagined.