Tuesday, June 6, 2006
To every one of you children out there: this is a letter from a father, any and every father. A father you may have had. A father that, over the years, might have had some trouble expressing himself to you. This is written for him, from his heart to yours, with some universal sentiments that are too often left unsaid.
"When you were born, I became an adult. The feelings that ran through me moved every emotion. I didn't know that anybody could be so elated, afraid and proud at the same time. But there I was, with you.
When I first held you, you fit in my hand. I cradled you with my arms, and was as uncertain about fatherhood as anything I'd ever felt in my life. I became something that I didn't know anything about. The examples of fatherhood before me were vague. I was never taught how to hold a baby, change a diaper, tilt a bottle, or meet the day with so little sleep. It was on the job training. It was hard to adjust to something that seemed so foreign to me. I had no direction. I relied on emotional improvisation. Asking for help isn't always the easiest thing for me to do and talking to another man about parenting never even crossed my mind.
As I continued to grow, something changed in me. I became more protective of you. Part of my growth was to provide for your welfare. That connection between my work and your life gave me a sense of purpose. Moreover, it gave me strength. For you, forging a path to achieve my goals made more sense and became easier to do. I gained endurance, and I could do more for you than I could do for myself.
I have been gone a lot. I know that my time with you has been limited. The purpose that I felt in being your father pulled me into the daily challenges of work, and I looked at this role as something I could control, some kind of cause-and-effect relationship between what I did and how you were cared for. I recognized my limitations as an expressive being, but I knew I could work without limits. I put the time into what I knew I could do - bring you the things you needed to grow. It took away the time you and I could've had together. I was too young to know that I would never have that time back again, and I am too old to reclaim the preciousness of your youth.
Through you, I learned to know what love was. It came as a passion through my commitment to you and from your presence in my life. I never knew exactly what to say, when to say it, or how to express myself. My words always seemed to fall short, my actions ill timed. But I knew with certainty that the love in my heart was through your mere presence. That soaring feeling of purpose lay within me the day you were born; it grew as each page of the calendar was turned.
I know I have a temper. As I aged, I grasped the intimate connection between pressure, frustration and parenting. I yelled. I have yet to conquer my feelings of fear, to overcome my feelings of insecurity. These two ills are the source of all my anger, and I deal with them every day. I've said shortsighted, insensitive and mean things. My rage came through me faster than I realized, and my words reflected my inability to control myself. I remember every hurt in your eyes. And I would trade everything I own to take back every word I said in anger. I don't have the energy for that kind of temperament anymore. I wish I'd been free of it completely when you were young.
I want you to know how much I love you. I want you to know how much I miss you when you're gone, how thrilled I get at your arrival and how difficult it is, at times, for me to share with you my feelings. Know in your heart that my love for you exceeds any I've ever dreamed I'd feel. Know that I would do anything for you, and that I've tried to provide everything for you that I could.
If I could ask for any gift in the world, for any present you could ever give me, it would be this: Please forgive me. Forgive me for my shortcomings. I hope I've improved in my love and expression for you. My words still get caught in my throat and my hands still reach for the child I wish I had close to me. I am all of the bad that I've been, but I strive to be all of the good that I can be.
I love you more than you may ever know and more than I may ever be able to express. I hope you know that, in every fashion imaginable, I am who I am because you're here. Being a father to you is the most important thing I have ever done. It is the very essence of my life.
And in the center of that essence, my beautiful child, is the love that I will always have for you."
Ed McShane is a psychotherapist. His commentaries will be featured monthly on kpbs.org. You can contact Ed at firstname.lastname@example.org.