Primrose Flora Lynn Stark is cuddled in my left arm sleeping as Savanna sleeps in our bedroom. Since they cat nap through the night as I get a few hours, I take the baby to the winter room in the wee morning hours to cuddle by the stove, drink coffee and read. All while watching the sun rise over the valley as light envelops our dark home. I have plenty of time to reflect on what it means to be a father?
My birth father only spoke to me three times in my life, we met twice. Each time he told me how much better off I was without him around. He died at 61, after living for almost 30 years in the Oregon Forest in a Ford Explorer with solar panels and a battery bank. He never got to know me nor allowed me to know him. He was an example of what it is like to grow up without a father around, an example I do not want to follow.
My first step-father provided money and a roof and that was about it. He punished me rather strictly and instilled a sense of fear I still live with today. I am certainly one of those people who say “sorry” a hundred times a day for nothing at all. “Sorry I cooked you soup while you were sick.” Is one such example. Stan was highly involved at work and with the Masons and Rotary, yet he was not involved in my life. I can recall only a couple times he hugged me. I was not allowed to sleep in his bed as a scared young boy and was shown that men are to be serious at all times. Mother left him because he was not affectionate, appreciative and kind.
My second step-father was a man who murdered another’s man and was sentenced to life in prison. I spent countless hours in visiting rooms talking and playing cards. He wrote and spoke like a theology professor with a master’s in poetics. A brilliant man, kind, stern, affectionate, only present in mind. Always looking to the future for a better life. Parole, after-life, next life. Mother divorced him because she was lonely.
And that was the end of my run with father’s.
I change my daughter’s diaper, sing to her as she screams in tears, cook for and take care of her mother as she heals, and hand her back to her mother when I feel rage building and self-loathing surface.
At times I want to runaway to hide from the world because I think my family would be better off without my crazy ways, but then I remember what it felt like as a boy and then a man whose father abandoned him. So I stay… and we pitch a tent in the yard to camp for a couple nights.
At times I want to spend all our money on gifts and trips and toys and to spend all my time working or volunteering to make sure the baby and her mother know that I love them, but then I think about how it felt as a boy and then as a man who didn’t have a father around to give love and affection. So I stay.
At times I want to woo my wife and child with words and promises about the future, but then I remember how it felt as a boy and as a man and the way my mother was crushed over and over again when parole was denied. So I stay.
I have to remind myself over and over especially during these times when unfinished projects remain unfinished, our greenhouse is overgrown with weeds, and the orchard is a clover field that needs cut. The list of projects is endless, our time together as a family is not.
Primrose is 6 weeks old now. She has gained 2 pounds and is now smiling, cuddling, sleeping, and of course— shitting a whole bunch. I have been here every day to support her and her mother during the colic phase, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Am I going to make a bunch of empty promises about our future? Hell no. But I will clip my baby’s fingernails after this post and then wipe her poopy little butt.
When I asked my sponsor in recovery how I was supposed to be a good father when I never had a good father he said, “Be the father you always wished you had. Do things with your child you always wanted a father to do with you. And stay calm.”
So far, I am a better father than I ever had. And I plan on keeping it that way.