Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My Dad

I started this post at this blog and my other blog, about my father at least four times. This will be attempt number five.

My parents were divorced when I was five years old... Between my father's philandering, unholy temper, propensity for using his hands to express anger, and my mother's unwise use of chemicals, theirs was a match made in the depths of hell. As difficult as it was, their divorce, in 1969, was a blessing for the whole family.

After the divorce, my mother took us three children from California, where my dad was stationed (he was in the Air Force), to New Jersey where my maternal grandmother lived.

We were raised by my mom and (mostly by my) grand mom, and saw my dad whenever he was stationed somewhere nearby... in the early 70's, it was in central Massachusetts.

On school holidays, my father would drive from Westover Air Force Base to our house in NJ, come inside long enough to say hello to my mother and to use the bathroom, and we'd be on the road! It was during these trips that my father first demonstrated his perfectly abysmal ability to tell jokes. My father told the absolutely worst jokes on the planet. He would tell a joke, and then roar with laughter... not caring if anyone else found them funny. My dad also told awful knock-knock jokes, like this one:

Dad: "knock-knock"

Kids: "who's there?"

Dad: "Emerson"

Kids: "Emerson who?"

Dad: "Emerson funky socks you've got on!"

Kids: "That's Not Funny!"

Dad: "Baahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!"


My dad and I formed a decent relationship, and after he retired from military service, in 1973, he went back to his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. We (my older brother and sister, and I) visited fairly regularly, and after the older two graduated from high school and went out into the world, I continued to visit on my own... by this time, I had graduated to taking the train, which I thought was pretty cool.

I continued my visits with my dad (and his wife and their daughter, my half sister), until I graduated from high school and joined the service.

One of the best things that my dad ever did for me, is something he probably doesn't even think of now.

When I left home to join the service, my recruiter picked me up early in the morning, and took me to the processing point, in Newark (NJ, not Del.), where I had to fill out forms, get shots, etc... We were then put aboard a bus to the airport for flights to our basic training destination... in my case, Parris Island, South Carolina.

As we were about to board the plane, I heard a shout across the terminal: "Billyyyyyyyyyyyy!" It was my dad, sprinting in my direction. He didn't even tell me he was coming! This was in 1981, and my dad was about three years older than I am now. He drove his little Toyota Tercel to the point where his engine completely gave up the ghost in the parking lot of the airport... just to get there to see me off. He gave me a hug and said: "I'm proud of you, son!... time to be a man, now. Take care of yourself, and call when you can"

He had driven nearly three hundred miles with a car whose engine was literally coming apart at the end of the trip, to spend about thirty seconds with me. It was then that I realized that many of the things that my mother had said about my dad for years, weren't all true. Somebody that doesn't give a shit about their children doesn't do something like that.

Life went on, and my dad was a proud observer of my time in the service. Proud of my accomplishments, and of my promotions. He was even more proud when I came back from overseas the first time, speaking German even better than he does (an odd talent... my brother, father and I are nearly fluent in German... it drives our other relatives nuts!).

We didn't have a perfect relationship, but it was functional. As I grew into my thirties, and had a family of my own, I started thinking more about my dad, and had come to some unpleasant realizations about my own childhood. He sensed the growing tension between us, and wrote me a letter asking what it was all about. I answered him and told him that I wanted an apology. I wanted him to apologize for being a wife beater. I wanted him to apologize for not being around more when I was little. I wanted him to apologize for all of the things that I had to do alone in Scouting when the other boys had their fathers with them. He didn't see me achieve a varsity letter for throwing the discus, or sing in the school shows.

I didn't even know those things were bothering me, but they all came out in a rush of words.

I immediately felt like I had taken a load of bricks from my shoulders, and it felt good.

My brother and sister were pissed about what I said to my father, but that is a story for another time.

Anyway, it was time for Soccergirl's baptism, and he and I had a long talk in which he apologized to me for all of the things that I mentioned, and some that I hadn't mentioned.

From that day, six years ago, to this day, my dad and I have enjoyed a fantastic relationship.

I think I mentioned, over at my other blog that my father was largely responsible for my remaining in touch with my oldest child after my divorce. I called him the other day to thank him.

If you have any bad feelings with anyone, friends, remember that it is NEVER too late to try to reconcile with someone if both parties are still living.

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Gunfighter, Fastpitch, Soccergirl, and my Dad

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Calling All dads!

I don't think that this blog can be done properly without a range of male voices, so I am inviting Real Dads to participate.

I think that our theme for July is going to be: The Joys of New Fatherhood.

Share your stories of those first cool, and freakin' terrifying moments of fatherood, whether it be a story about the birth process, LaMaze classes, projectile vomit, learning to change a diaper... whatever comes to mind from the earliest days and moments of your fatherhood.

Email me with your stories, and I will post them here.



Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Importance of Being "Daddy"

I wrote this piece in January, as part of a blog swap that I did with Leslie G, over at My Mommy's Place. I though that it might be a good first post, here at my new blog.

Here in the blogosphere, I go by the name of Gunfighter. Not because I spend my days involved in shootouts, but because I am a professional tactical firearms instructor. That title describes a person that teaches law enforcement officers how to fight with guns. Gunfighter is my internet “handle” , senior firearms instructor is my title, “Inspector” is my rank within my agency, my name is Bill.

When some people hear about what I do for a living, they tell me what a cool job I have. I can’t disagree. I have one of the best jobs on the planet for someone with my skill-set and personality. I do have a great job... I get to wear comfortable clothes, work great hours, shoot exotic and expensive guns, and never have to pay for the ammunition. With all of that, I have to tell you that, the most important job I have is the dual role of husband and father.

On my blog, I frequently talk about my wife and my daughter, because they are the central pillar in my earthly life. My family is the reason I exist.

A few months ago, I wrote a piece about the importance of responsible, participatory fatherhood in the lives of boys. I discussed how boys should be shaped into men, and how their fathers were the most important factor in being turned into good men who would be good husbands and fathers when the time came. Today, I want to talk about the role of men as the fathers of daughters.

I was raised in a home where my father wasn’t present. My parents divorced when I was only five years old, leaving my mother to raise the three of us (I have an older bother and sister) with major support from my grandmother. I’m not complaining, mind you, I had an interesting childhood and was well-loved… but something was missing. I didn’t learn how to be a man from my dad. He was a career soldier, and even when my parents were together, he was never around. My only memories from when my parents were married are of shouting and violence. I learned how to be man by negative example and by having Captain James T. Kirk, of the Starship Enterprise as a role-model (no, I’m NOT joking).

Although women are, more-often-than-not, the primary caregivers for children in our society, we men have an important role to play. You see, men need to be the example of what kind of man their daughters should expect when it is time for them to find acceptable spouses. Daughters need to see their fathers come home at night (or day, depending on the kind of work they do). Daughters need to see that a real man supports his family as best he can no matter the sacrifices that it takes to do it. Daughters need to see their mothers treated decently, with respect and love and kindness. Daughters need the kind of attention that comes from their first true love… their fathers.

I love being the father of daughters. My oldest daughter, Fastpitch, is seventeen and will start her Freshman year of college in the fall. Fastpitch lives with her mother (my ex-wife) and her step-father, in West Virginia. I saw her just recently, and we now talk on the phone and email each other frequently.

Soccergirl, who is 8, and I get along famously. When we are together, just the two of us, we do things differently than when it is just her and mommy. We play different games, we go different places and have our own brand of fun. None of this takes away from the things that my wife does with her. Not at all, it just illustrates how we have our own special relationship. I will tell you right here and now that one of the happiest moments in my life took place when Soccergirl, at age 5, said to me with all the gravity in the world: Daddy, when I grow up, will you marry me like you married mommy? Sounds sappy, doesn’t it? Maybe it was, but, it was a red-letter date from me, that still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it. Just the other day, she told me that I was the best daddy in the world. I doubt that is true, but it is true enough for her, and therefore, true enough for me.

Soccergirl is almost out of her little girl stage, but she still likes it when I carry her upstairs at bed time. She still likes me to sing her to sleep, she still likes to sit on my lap and have me read to her. These moments will be gone soon… probably before next Christmas. I’m more grateful for them than I can possibly tell you.

It is my hope, even through all of the teenaged angst and rebellion that comes with those years, that when Soccergirl is a young woman, and she thinks about what men are like, that she uses me as a positive yardstick to measure them by. I want her to be able to always have a good example of what a man should be. It is my hope that even when I am long dead that she will always remember her “daddy” with a smile.

At the beginning of this piece, I told you about my titles. None of them mean anything to me, really. The title that means most to me is “Daddy” not just a father. I’m daddy. No other title means as much to me.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Welcome Dads! (welcome everyone!)

Welcome to the Real Dads blog!

Why real dads? Because the men that I am talking about when I say "real dads" are the men that are participatory parents in their children's lives. Not just understanding of "mommy issues", but men who actively parent, either in partnership, or alone, as is sometimes the case.

A participatory father never refers to himself as a "babysitter", when he is in charge of the children and his spouse is out with her friends, working, or taking a nap. A real dad is just fulfilling his role as a father.

How many of us know men that thought that being a good dad only meant making as good a living as possible in order to "bring home the bacon" to his family?

Don't get me wrong, here... my point is not to denigrate dads who were culturally trained by the influences of their times, to behave a certain way, I'm talking about guys who may be your friends, coworkers, or even close relatives, that believe getting up in the night to feed a hungry infant "is HER job".

Aren't we better men than this? Aren't we more capable than some of our knuckle-dragging philosophical forebears? Aren't we strong enough to be good providers AND loving, involved practitioners of the parental arts?

Well, that's what we are going to talk about here at the Real Dads blog.

I realize that until this blog becomes more heavily trafficked, that I will be mostly talking to myself (and perhaps the readers of my other blog), but please feel free to email me or to leave a comment about any dad issues that you'd like to discuss. It is my intention to have a conversation with other fathers, as opposed to preaching from my pulpit about what a great dad I am.

So, c'mon, Real Dads, I know that you are out there. Let's hear from you.