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Ordinary fathers

For many years, I was a little sad and wistful whenever Father’s Day rolled around because inevitably, there was some article in the newspaper that celebrated a bunch of dads doing ordinary things for their families every day.

My dad was sort of ordinary, at least for a while. He built ice rinks in the backyard and burned piles of leaves in the street (back when it was legal) with a fearlessness usually reserved for Tom Cruise action movies. For a few years, that same bravado turned him into a star salesman, one who traveled and sold the type of stuff surgeons used in the operating room.

After my parents divorced when I was 12, he turned into the kind of dad who’d drop in now and then, with a showman’s flourish, then leave for months, or later, years without ever contacting us.

My mother raised us – three kids – alone.

As much as that sounds like some awfully depressing Lifetime Movie of the Week, there were some good things to come out of it, proving that there are many opportunities in this here lifetime to take a bowl of stinky old lemons and turn them into sweet-tastin’ lemonade.

Because my dad wasn’t around, I think I grew up more self-reliant than some of my peers. Especially if self-reliance meant knowing how to fold fitted sheets or walking along the shoulder of a busy road to my table-bussing-turned-hostessing-turned-waitressing job (you gotta love upward mobility) to pay for college.

I also acquired a knack for delivering a sarcastic quip; that happens when you spend a lot of time deflecting your own self-pity. Later, I used my experience to combat working mom guilt: It might be hard to drop two kids off at daycare before I go to work, but nothin’s as hard as growin’ up without a dad. Thanks, Dad, for toughening me up.

So, imagine my surprise when I worked in a male dominated environment for many years after I graduated from college, surrounded by dads, yes, dads, who stuck with their families, talked about their kids, even had photos of them on their desks. Wow.

Mentally, I cataloged ways in which these and other dads did ordinary things for their children – coaching a daughter’s soccer team, helping a son understand algebra, defending a kid at parent/teacher conferences, saving for college if it were feasible, loaning an adult child money for a starter home. I knew I had missed out on a lot, but it wasn’t until I had all this concrete evidence before me that I realized how much.

Because of that, I made sure the family I married into had a strong tradition of sticking together – where dads didn’t bail. Dads who reap the rewards of being there for their kids and helping them grow into happy adults. If they are lucky, they watch as children graduate from high school or college, start new careers, meet someone to spend their lives with, and maybe, have children of their own.

Did my dad see all he missed out on? I don’t know. But even if he didn’t, I know that not having him in my life wasn’t just my loss, it was his as well.

Originally published in Metro Parent Magazine, June 2012.

This is a blog hop. 

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May 30, 2013 - 1:56 pm

fadedginger - This was beautifully written, Pam.

May 30, 2013 - 2:05 pm

Pam Houghton - Thank-you. 🙂

May 30, 2013 - 6:29 pm

Ellen Dolgen - you’re right, Pam – it WAS his loss that he wasn’t able to see you as much as he could have as you growing into the wonderful woman that you are today! Beautiful post!

May 30, 2013 - 6:58 pm

Pam Houghton - Thank-you, Ellen, for your kind words!

May 31, 2013 - 6:57 am

in pursuit - Real dads, authentic dads, the ones that fight the battles, hand out the discipline, enforce the rules and monitor the chores are truly a blessing. Like moms, they are far from perfect, but their imperfections teach us so much. i’m sorry you had to miss out on a dad like that but I’m much more sorry that he missed out on YOU!

May 31, 2013 - 1:04 pm

Pam Houghton - Thanks, Vicky. I appreciate your comment! (Sure hope it doesn’t sound like I was cuing the violins on this one!)

June 3, 2013 - 11:38 am

Karen D. Austin - I admire your resilience. My parents divorced when I was 15, but my dad avoided going home for anything but 7 hours sleep for years before that. Father’s Day always brings mixed emotions for me. I agree that it was important, as it was for you, for me to look around at many models of fatherhood. Good job for not generalizing all men by the behavior of one man. (I did that for a decade or more and didn’t marry until I was 34. Having a son helped me a lot, too.)

June 3, 2013 - 12:44 pm

Pam Houghton - But I DID generalize and like you, I didn’t marry until I was 32. Be interesting to know if the 50% divorce rate factors into the increasing age at which people tend to marry for the first time. The “experts” seem to link it to other factors including higher education and career concerns; but it’s just common sense to think that divorced parents makes you more cautious when it comes to marriage. Thanks for your comment, Karen!

June 3, 2013 - 1:11 pm - It was indeed his loss, Pam.

Like you, we had a “normal” father for a few years…and then things began to go bad. He never left, but he transformed into a person who was hard to like very much.

I think sometimes that having a father and losing him in this way–a sort of living death–is harder on kids than losing a father to death, as we know he’s out there…but not for us. You’re right that it toughens us up, but there’s always a cost.

June 3, 2013 - 1:22 pm

Pam Houghton - I agree – it is harder to lose a parent to divorce than to death. Must be the rejection factor. Also, not sure I’ll ever be convinced that the cost is worth the “resilience” one gains. Thanks for your comment!! Reassuring to know others with similar experiences.

June 3, 2013 - 2:25 pm

Grown and Flown - Pam, it makes me sad for you that you missed out on having a dad to rely on. Clearly, though, you learned both self-reliance and became determined to create a family structure with two parents that was of the ultimate importance to you. I think you are absolutely right that your father missed much by being uninvolved. Thank you for your honest writing about a painful subject.

June 3, 2013 - 2:42 pm

Pam Houghton - Thanks Grown and Flown. Appreciate your comment! (I hope I don’t sound like I’m wallowing in self-pity here! 🙂 )

June 3, 2013 - 5:23 pm

Barb - I read this and am so impressed with your acceptance of what is. There’s not bitterness and there’s self-assurance as you remind us that your father missed out too. I’m sure he did. And what a fabulous mother you had/have. Sounds like you gained strength from her – she must be very wise. Thank you for such an honest post – and such an inspiring attitude of strength from the loss of his presence.

June 3, 2013 - 5:54 pm

Pam Houghton - Well, thank-you, Barb. Awfully kind words. My mother was definitely a model of fortitude, that’s for sure!

June 3, 2013 - 11:40 pm

Sandra - Well, you certainly made lemonade. I’m sorry your father wound up with the lemons. You made the best of what you were given. You have been smart about your life. Thanks.

June 4, 2013 - 1:48 pm

Pam Houghton - Wellllll…I tried to make lemonade! Thanks, Sandra.

June 4, 2013 - 10:33 pm

Phoebe Wulliman Graber - Poignant and heartfelt. Thanks for sharing! Sounds like your husband is quite ordinary and your kids are blessed!

June 5, 2013 - 12:22 pm

Pam Houghton - Thanks, Phoebe!

June 11, 2013 - 5:57 am

Chloe - Maybe if more men truly realized how deeply their bad behavior hurts their kids they’d try just a little bit harder. I’m sorry your dad wasn’t there for you. You deserved much better. And in the end he’s the one who missed out.

June 11, 2013 - 12:55 pm

Pam Houghton - Yeah, well, you know, what are ya gonna do? 🙂 But I do agree that dads are important and unfortunately, our society has placed way more importance on the mother’s presence and not enough on the dad’s. That has kind of given them license to not be present, especially if the parents’ relationship does not work out. On the other hand, there are a lot of good, conscientious dads out there; it’s good to remember that! Thanks for your comment, Chloe.

June 12, 2013 - 2:53 am

Maritza Martinez - Pam, I think you’re mom was quite special, she stood by you and raised all three of you. I hope she did it without talking about your father every two seconds in a not “so good kind of a way”, like my own mom did frequently. Writing about these tough experiences surely brings things into perspective! Thanks for sharing your story, I know it can be hard writing about it. Blessings!


June 12, 2013 - 1:02 pm

Pam Houghton - Oh, my mom did that, too. Talk about my dad in a ‘not so good way.’ Oh, well. She was human. And I guess he was, too! Thanks, Maritza, for your comment!

June 15, 2013 - 4:36 pm

Pat - Pam, this beautiful, heartfelt post really made me stop and think how fortunate my siblings and I were to grow with a loving father. Your strength and resiliency comes through clearly in writing.

June 15, 2013 - 4:43 pm

Pam Houghton - Thanks, Pat. My siblings and I certainly appreciate the relationship we have today!

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