Four Types of Fathers – What Do Children Know as a Result?

First Father:  The dad of one of my best friends died last week.  He was only in his 60s, and although he had been ill for some time, I was still surprised to learn of his passing.  When I reflect on him, I find some peace with certain facts: he did have the opportunity to raise his children, see two of his three children marry and share life with his grandkids for several years.

I learned of this sad news while I was at church, taking a break to check my phone as I am accustomed to do while I’m out – I never know if Jim’s nurse will call when we’re at church or if Jim will phone with an emergency.  These days we have an agreement.  Since Jim can’t talk well, if he does call, he doesn’t need to say anything.  I will ask questions to which he can answer “yes” or “no” as I figure out what to do or as I jump in the car to head back home.  But on this particular Sunday, the message waiting for me was sadness.  My heart broke for my friend and her family.  It seemed so unfair.  Since I was at church, my brain was actively thinking about God and I questioned the craziness of all of it.  I asked many of the “typical” questions you might expect: “Why now?  What is the purpose of this, God?”

As I thought more and more about this event and this man, I found myself being drawn in particular to my friend’s mom.  My friend’s parents were still married and I could imagine the pain she was enduring, or would be enduring more than likely in the near future after the shock wears off.  I really met this couple years ago, as my friend and I were getting to know one another in college.  As roommates, I would see the couple often enough.  From an outsider’s point of view, I could see the genuine love and warmth that both her mom and dad had for their daughter, my friend.  Although my friend might complain that her father was demanding at times, she too knew that her father loved her with everything he had.  He was the type who would fight for his family as well as fight for what was right.  My friend knew that no matter what, her dad would be there.  She knew she could call him up on the phone, and, in a heartbeat, he would be there to help.  My friend’s dad was also definitely the patriarch of the family and could play the dominating role quite well, and could be a bit scary at times if he was upset about something.  Regardless though, you always saw the kindness, the soft spot, and always, truly, the love for his family.

Unfortunately, this father left.  His children are left with a void and his grandkids will have memories and stories, but they will never get to experience first-hand this person in his true essence.

Second Father:  This recent event got me thinking about another horrible event that is coming up on its one-year anniversary.  At this time last year I learned about another father, a childhood friend from elementary and middle school, who did the unthinkable.  Especially when put in a context that he was blinded to at the time.  My buddy killed himself at the age of 42, leaving behind a beautiful wife and 4 young children.  I still can’t understand this act (and trust me, I think about it quite often).  I feel so sad for my buddy, knowing he must have been so sad to have been brought to this act.  And, on the other end of the spectrum, I feel angry that he could do this.  His children will grow up without the privilege of getting to really know this loveable, fun, and very pro-family man.  His children (and wife) would always wonder “Why?”, and “What could I have done to have helped?” and all sorts of crazy thoughts that are certain to haunt them from now on.  These children’s lives will never be the same.

Unfortunately, this father decided to leave his children.  He did it in the most radical way and his children will have a void that will never be filled.  Still, for the man I know he was, I am certain that his children knew he loved him.  I am also certain that his wife, their mother, will continue to remind these kids that their father loved them.  My hope is that they will be reminded of his love for them often enough that they will mature and grow certain that their father did, in fact, love them.

Third Father:  My mind then goes to my own father.  It’s hard not to reflect on your own upbringing during such a pensive time.  My father is a quiet man and quite likeable.  To this day, when people meet my dad, comments about how nice he is are the norm.  Still, I don’t really know him.  He never opened up, never shared much, and didn’t engage with me or my sisters much after he and my mother split up.  I was only 10 years old at the time and I’m not sure what I processed, but there was definitely a void that I yearned to be filled.  I wanted my father to want to be with his children.  I wanted him to ask about our lives, our friends, our school, our boyfriends, really anything, but regrettably, this was not his style.  I think he tried in his own way to show his affection.  He would shower us with gifts and help secure cars for us (since he worked at one of the major auto companies).

Unfortunately though, this father left in genuine presence.  He didn’t depart in body, only in company, which may be the worst type of departure.  My sisters and I have a void and many questions that will never be answered and we will occasionally consider “Why?” and “What could I have done differently to help him love me?”  My sisters and I have no grudges and deal quite well with the situation that we have.  We do have a relationship with our father, it is just not the one we had wanted.  I do know that he was an engaging father when he was still married to my mother and my hope is that some of our positive character traits have stemmed from him or what we have learned from him.

Fourth Father:   Then there is another father, and this one is the most important of all because he is my husband and the father of my own children.  He is present, but not as we would like.  He is so ill that he is unable to play with his children, talk with his children, engage with his children, or even walk into their bedrooms and spend some time with them there.  He desperately wants to be there, to be truly present, but his body fails him.  He is a prisoner to his illness (of chronic Lyme disease with neurological and muscular damage), and although he fights and believes he will someday be well again, the progress doesn’t come fast enough.  This father’s children know their daddy loves them.  He tells them every night.  He also hears it back from them.  He tells his kids he is proud of them and every once in awhile, our son will say “I’m proud of you too Daddy.”  I smile every time I hear this.  I truly think this is one of the most beautiful, tender moments I have ever experienced in my life.  Still, Jim can’t give our kids a big hug.  He can’t take them to a ballgame, can’t take them to school or the movies.  He can’t read them bedtime stories or make the memories he wants to so that they grow up completely engaging with their daddy.

And although my children know their father, they don’t know the true Jim.  He is so ill and so tired that he is not himself.  My kids don’t know that their father is truly one funny man.  He is so clever and quick-minded.  My kids don’t know their daddy does magic, so much so that many neighbor kids used to call him “Magic Man.”  My kids don’t know their dad can cut a rug, party with the best of them, tell amazing stories that have you on the edge of your seat as you are waiting to hear the next line, and they don’t know that their dad was a great golfer and quite athletic.  He can’t do these things now.  He is too ill.

I wonder sometimes what my children would be like if their daddy was able to be more participatory.  Would their personalities be the same?  It is true what people say about getting a glimpse of your kids’ personalities in the hospital right after they are born.  For example, I knew our son was pretty laid back and that our daughter was going to be more feisty and determined.  Still, as they are growing and becoming their own persons, their environment is certainly a big influence.  Jim is much more meticulous than I am.  He is much more focused and persistent.  He won’t do anything that will simply work and be satisfied with this, it must be the best it can be.  If my kids were actively exposed to this attitude and interaction day in and out, would they be different?  We will never know.

Unfortunately, this father can’t be the father he wants to be because of physical restrictions.  Still, my hope is that our children feel that same love and kindness that my friend’s recently deceased father radiated.  My hope is that this illness that has taken so much from my children will somehow strengthen them – that the kids will realize the gift of time and family, and that they will become nurturing givers rather than takers.  Because when it comes down to it, if Jim can teach our kids that life is what you make it and that if you believe in something and work hard at it, you can attain happiness, he is the best father in the world and his influence on their personalities will dominate over anything I may have contributed.  Fortunately, I truly believe, that our children will know this life lesson and by figuring out from where they learned it, they will be reminded how much their daddy loves them and how much he has given them.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by crystal pennington on August 28, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Erica, that is beautiful. Your children will know the Jim we know from you for now. They are God’s gift to you and a perfect blend of both of you. By the way, you are an amazing wife & mother.


  2. Posted by dad on August 29, 2011 at 12:31 am

    Erica, your post about fathers really hit home. Unfortunately, the clock cannot be turned back as I wish that were possible. I am not sure what happened as life was good and also stressful with a wife, three children and college at night for nine years along with working an infinate amout of overtime to support the whole lifestyle and plan for the future. Apparently my goals were different somewhere along the line. I am not sure if I know myself or can express what is inside of me to you and your sisters. As you know I am a very quiet and personal. Love Dad


  3. Posted by dad on August 29, 2011 at 12:57 am

    Erica, I ran out of space and was unable to continue. I am very, very proud of you and your sisters and cannot believe how you have handled this whole illness up to this time. Jim is truly blessed to have you looking over him and the kids. I wish and pray
    only the best as he is truly a wonderful man and I remember the goodtimes with him and look forward to the future and the same man/father I knew.


  4. Posted by Julie Rohrer on August 30, 2011 at 3:14 am

    Erica, your post about fathers really did hit home. I wish I could write the way you do. I agree with every thing you write and I gain so much for reading every syllable. You have learned some very valuable lessons in life and you continue to teach the rest of us! You leave me to ponder each time I read something you express. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


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