It is Father’s Day in Australia, the egg and bacon shelves at the supermarkets are inevitably empty as well as the sock and undies shelf – for the lucky dads the tool section at the local hardware store will be empty too. I really like tools! But more than anything I love my presents with hand designed wrapping paper and the gently coached present ideas from my wife. As the years go on the presents get a little more sophisticated and I fear within 5 years it will come down to the convenience of the infamous gift card. But for now I relish the simplicity and joy of the simple gifts that are full to the brim with love (I secretly can’t wait for the hardware store gift cards).
I know Father’s Day is exploited by marketers in the corporate back room, I roll my eyes at the blatant and stereotypical portrayal of the dad, but the truth is we need a day to focus on the unique role a father plays. I almost missed out on being a father because I valued my ‘freedom’ more than the taxing responsibility of children. Then we had an unexpected miracle that placed my carefree caboose firmly on the railroad with the next stop at the town of ‘fatherhood’. Even with the complexity of our little family and my daughters special needs that Cerebral Palsy brings, I cannot imagine missing out on the volcanic feeling when a rapturous laugh explodes from the surprise of a precious family moment.
There are some of us that have had a catastrophic relationship with their father and Father’s Day is just tolerated, mostly driven by a sense of duty. There are also people who can’t have children and adoption of the legal kind or the tribal kind becomes the only way the paternal joy gets expressed. For both groups of people, I would love to tell you how important it has been for my spiritual & emotional growth for a man to step in and fill the hole my own father left.
As I have written in my book, my father had made many errors that will never allow me to experience the fulfilment of a blood father relationship. Before you quiz me about forgiveness and healing, lets just say, sometimes the brokenness of humanity will explore the extremities and ventures past the point of no return. Because of this I live with an unsolvable situation, but I have a vacancy that to my delight has been filled.
For many Father’s Day is only a reminder of what they don’t have. This is where the uniqueness and power of a tribe steps in. Sure, anything outside the typical building blocks of a family don’t reflect the perfect and romantic family unit the marketers show on T.V. but there is a real life substitute that teaches us imperfect can actually be, well…perfect.
All through my life I never knew what it was like to get advice from a man who cared about me and was connected emotionally. After my mothers divorce she married a man who had never had his own children. He won’t mind me saying, before he was baptised into our crazy family, he was a stamp collecting hermit (a loveable one) who never wore shoes. It was our family that encouraged him to embrace life in a more full way (he may now regret and reminisce his old life – I don’t blame him!). But he loves my mother more than she has ever been loved and this filled our life with the kind of stability we had never experienced. All of a sudden I had someone to talk to and although I lived a long way away, there was a place for me to go and a man who took interest in me. Most of all he modelled faithfulness to my mother in what were very trying times. Yes, our family won’t be on the front of the K-Mart brochure but it is a great example of an adaptive tribe.
By the time my wife and I moved from Australia leaving our family networks to live in the USA, we had long given up the thought of having children. It had been years of infertility and now we were contemplating what life might look like without kids. Were we to extend our tribal responsibility by adopting or would we just focus on other things?
Enter our twin girls and the immediacy of fatherhood – the instant coffee version. We had 3 month premature twins and it would prove to be a chaotic journey with the full spectrum of emotion. I was in a new country and I desperately needed a father, someone to lean into, learn from, talk with. The tribal substitute angel rang its bell and another man stepped in filling the vacancy my natural father left behind. A generous American man who my family now affectionately calls Papa.
Through the most challenging times I had ever experienced, Papa stood beside me gently coaching and encouraging me. Whenever I finished singing on stage (which was my job), like a proud father he would enthusiastically describe his favourite note that I sang or be drying his eyes as he hugged me like a proud bear filling me up with confidence and cancelling out the destructive words I heard all my life. Papa also knew when to take me out for lunch and let me pour my heart out as I described the fear I felt for my girls and their future. Papa fulfilled his tribal responsibilities by sharing his wisdom and love with me even though we didn’t share one drop of blood. The result…I am a more complete father.
I wonder if the ultimate role of a father is knowing when to let go? For us the day soon came when we left the shores of the USA to come home to Australia. I know the pain Papa felt investing his heart into me and my girls and having to watch us walk onto the plane never to come back. We took a chunk out of his heart that day. Some would opt to not have their heart broken in the first place by not sharing their soul, I get that. But Papa would say the heartache he endured was far outweighed by the love he experienced, not only being my tribal father, but a granddad to my girls. As short as our time was in the USA, it was worth it.
So… Father’s Day is not a perfect situation for everyone. It is messy, unconventional and flawed. But I am a man made whole by the love of men who continue to stand by me. The men who have impacted me the greatest are removed from my DNA as far as the moon is and back. One of those men never had the privilege of rearing his own children and the other included me into his growing family.
Somehow the imperfection of a tribal substitute in either being a pseudo father or being fathered, is more powerful to me than the natural version. Maybe it is the sacrifice and choice to share rather than the compulsion or sense of responsibility blood relationships demand.
To all the quirky father, son, daughter relationships out there that aren’t perfect – Happy Father’s Day!