Yesterday, I had an opportunity to be on a panel in front of a bunch of teenagers.
The subject of conversation was focused on sex and relationships, and I was there to give the fatherhood perspective.
Yes, I was a nervous going into it – after all, I didn’t want to give bad advice that might seriously negatively affect some young lives!
Everything was going well as I was talking about the realities of fatherhood in SA, until it was time for me to take some questions.
One, in particular, threw me:
“Why did you decide not to go off and get the milk?”
What this young girl was really asking was why I decided to stick around and not do the cliché of “Dad’s off to the store” only never to return. Clearly in her world this is a common thing, and from the nods coming from around the room, she wasn’t alone.
For many of these kids, a dad staying with his family is an outlier. It was devastating to see that in the matter-of-fact way she asked her question.
Regardless of how hard the question hit me, I still had to answer. Here’s the strange thing: I didn’t have one ready to go. I spend much of time thinking about parenting and fatherhood, so I’m usually prepared with some sort of answer to most of the questions that get thrown at me at events like this.
But this was something that I never even considered: Why did I choose to stick around? Why do some dads stay?
Honestly, there didn't seem to be any real alternative. Not staying with my family was not something that entered my brain. Maybe the better question then is what made it possible for me to stay? Why was there no other possible outcome?
Now that I can answer.
Firstly, I was fortunate enough to have a dad that was always present. He may not have always been at his best, but my biggest example of a father was of someone who never shirked away from that responsibility.
I also had privileges, like being employed, that made me feel like I COULD be a dad. I wasn’t in a culture that demanded I bring in a certain amount of money just to see my family, which is the reality of many fathers South Africa.
Of course, I also had a partner in my wife who constantly reinforced my role and importance in my kids’ lives, as well as my ability to take on those responsibilities.
Can someone be a great, present father without all of this? Sure, but it would be incredibly hard. Are all fathers who have all of that, and more, automatically great and present fathers? Of course not.
Look, I’m not going to be fake-humble here. I do my best to be a great dad, I think my best is pretty damn good. But what that young girl’s question reminded me of is the fact that there are many influences that have affected my ability to be the father that I am.
And maybe I could be little less quick to judge some fathers who are in situations that make it very difficult to be dads they wished they could be.
All I know is that my life would be a lot greyer and emptier if I couldn’t proudly call myself dad to these two knuckleheads: