Striving to be the Lighthouse

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By Michael

The other day I was writing out my social media birthday post for my son. I don’t always get to see the kids on their actual birthday so typically my way to process that fact, my therapy for the day is I will write a type of longer than normal, sometimes emotional post celebrating their birthday.

I’ve become aware in the last few years that what I’m writing is likely to now be read by my children, if not when posted then a few years down the road. So when I’m writing now, this fact is in the back of my head. It doesn’t change the honesty or the feeling behind the posts, but before I never wrote them out with the thought that people were reading them. I’m no longer writing something for just myself, but for them, so I’ve now started looking back at previous year’s posts to ensure I don’t duplicate or copy things I’ve previously said.

In reading back on some of my posts for Canaan, I started thinking about how I don’t really have a ton of influence on him if really any at all.  He’s with his Mom most of the time, and when he’s with me, it has started to feel as if he’s using that time as a short vacation or weekend getaway.  It has really started to feel as if I’m just Dad by title and biology alone. It doesn’t feel as if he looks up to me in any way or that I’m a parent that he would want to or look to for advice.  It doesn’t really feel as if he sees us as family.

I understand he’s a 14-year-old boy.  The whole attitude and isolation is something that is typically associated with that age.  Some people would argue that he would be like this in a lot of ways if he lived with me every single day, and I can’t imagine that people are wrong, however, I just can’t help but feel like there’s more missing.  It’s not a shot at him, it doesn’t lessen my love for my son in any way.  I’m really not pointing it out as a negative so much as just fact.  It is what it is.

I started thinking about all this, and looking back at the last 14 years, and thinking on the new baby coming, and it really started resonating with me, as I’m preparing to turn 40, that while I may not have a ton of influence on my son, he’s had an insurmountable amount of influence on me.  From all the struggles just getting to see him and visitation to all the lessons, I’ve learned along the way.  All the good things that have come from all the good and bad experiences.

During all this reflecting I decide to do a little math, for no other real reason than simple curiosity.  So I break it down:

My son has been on this earth for 14 years, however, I didn’t really get him at all the first year of his life, in fact, I didn’t AT ALL until after he was over 10 months old, so we’ll go with 13 years. For those 13 years, I’ve had him every other weekend, four weeks of summer break, and around an average of a week for Christmas for the bulk of those 13 years.  The rough math of it all comes in around 1,000 days.  My son has been on this Earth for over 5,100 days, and I’ve had less than 20% of that, as a father, to build a relationship, to instill wisdom, and share advice.  I have spent just under the equivalent of 3 years with my son.

I knew the number was going to be low, but something about breaking it down like that just hit harder.  It is not like I’ve not been aware of the lack of influence I have on him.  Something as simple as table habits and manners radiates like a beacon that I haven’t had the influence on him that I will with his youngest sibling, or even with his sister, who had more time with me prior to her mother and I splitting than he ever has. It sucks.  It’s nearly impossible to try and correct or improve habits or manners he has, or to instill in him confidence or certain behaviors that I wish he had when he’s only with me for 2 days, then goes back where there is the dominant influence.  You don’t have a chance to cement anything as little as not smacking gum when you have a 2-day window going against the12 other days. At this point, I’m just a guy that he doesn’t have to listen to, or just has to entertain for a few hours, and then he can go back to doing what he’s comfortable with. I’ve struggled at times with feeling as if he doesn’t respect me to even entertain listening to me, but when you break it all down mathematically, it’s almost painfully understandable.

When I found out I was going to be a father 14 years ago, it was not a desirable situation, but I made the decision immediately I was going to be in my child’s life no matter what. I had no idea how much or how little I would be involved, but I knew I wanted to be and I was going to be.  I wasn’t going to let my son think I didn’t want him or didn’t want to be in his life. I fought hard to be where I am, even now.  Even with the little time I get, I fought for that and that right because I wanted to be there. Our relationship isn’t what I want it to be.  Right now I try not to force anything. I do my best to not get frustrated when he chews with his mouth open or thinks I’m just picking on him when I tell him to turn his music down. I swallow my pride when I see and know he gets along better and is closer with his Mom’s boyfriend than he ever has been with me. I don’t let my hurt feelings show when I know he has an interest in a movie or a show that I’ve watched and enjoyed and he picks Googling it over chatting with me about it. I learn things through my wife as he’s more comfortable talking with his step-mother, and females in general than he is me. I look out for him from the shadows, from behind the scenes. I do my best to monitor school and keep up with his sports and make it to as many games or nongames as I can. Canaan and I have not had that storybook father and son dynamic and we never will. That wasn’t in the cards for us, rather it being from my missteps, from our situation, or a combination of both. I carry the burden of that every day. Some days it’s heavy than others, and I wish I could fix it, I wish a lot of things, but I’ve learned they are things that can’t be strong-armed. Right now, I’m Dad by title, not by influence or role, and I accept that.  Not because I’m throwing in the towel or anything like that, but because for now, that’s who I am to my teenage son, and while it sucks, it’s ok. I do my best to maintain, to be steadfast. To be that lighthouse on the shore. You may not always think about it, or rely on it, but when you’re in the middle of a storm, you’re thankful it’s there, just like it always has been.

I’ve known other men that have been in my shoes, and later in life, they have had the chance to grow closer to their adult sons. As an adult, their son not only saw them for the man they were but as someone who was always there, even if they didn’t realize it when they were younger.  In ten years, once he’s older, if my son sees me as that steady presence, that he could always rely on, despite the small amount of time we had, and calls me for advice, or wants to just come to hang out, and even sees me as a friend, then I’ve succeeded.

Is it the life I wanted for him?  No.
Is it the relationship I wanted to have? No
Am I the type of father I wanted to be 14 years ago? No
Is he my son? Yes
Do I love him? Yes
Do I want the best for him and for him to be happy and succeed in life?  You bet your ass I do!

I may feel like I’m Dad only in the name right now for my son, but I have always and will forever be Dad in my heart.  He’s my firstborn, he carries my name, he’s my son and I love him completely, and 100 days or 10,000 days will never change any of that.


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