Miscellaneous, Parenting

The Daddy Box

Today is set aside to honor and to remember fathers. I tell my boys each year that on this day I don’t want them to make themselves scarce, or to wait on me hand and foot – I want to spend the day with them and do something we all want to do, and to enjoy being a dad. Where we go and what we do is up to them (within reason). This year they’ve opted for one of two choices – canoeing, which is something we do once or twice a summer; or if the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor fun going to see a movie we all want to see.

I hold no particular memories of Father’s Day with my dad. Certainly I gave him cards and the occasional gift and a phone call in the years when we were speaking – but none of these occupy any particular real estate in my mind and recollection. Dad and I had a very strained and even non-existent relationship for many years. Even after we reconciled, ten years prior to his death, things weren’t always smooth sailing. Dad even, while upset with me for not being able to visit him for more than a month, told me a story one day that ended with him saying he likely was not my biological father, and couldn’t possibly be. I look too much like him and other men in the family to truly believe that, and yet for some time I wondered if it might indeed be true. I never pursued it, but for a while I wondered. Ultimately, though, I resolved in my mind and heart that he was the only father I’d ever known – that I was a grown man, with a family of my own, and didn’t need to go in search of my identity. I knew who I was, and that was what was most important.

My father passed away two years ago. I think of him every day and miss him very much. When he died the assisted living facility that he called home for the last eight years of his life boxed up his belongings for my brother and myself. There wasn’t much, and like my recollections of Father’s Day in relation to my dad, his belongings didn’t occupy much real estate. The clothing Dad left behind was either donated or discarded – his few other meager items divided between myself and my brother, and a hat for each of my boys that Dad wanted them to have one day.

I keep a small decorative box in a drawer of my dresser of those things I chose to retain. It measures perhaps 10 inches by 10 inches. It is nowhere near full. A few photographs, his comb, a pen he kept in his pocket daily, a small notepad he wrote in, his wallet, and his watch. After 83 years of life Dad left very little behind. None of it is valuable to anyone but myself, and yet it is the only tangible link I have to my dad other than to look in a mirror. I don’t have a shirt I can put on to imagine it being a hug from dad now that he’s gone…I don’t have anything he ever made for me to hold in my hands, imagining his touch as he crafted the item. I have, for the most part, only memories – and not all of them good ones.

Several years ago now I realized a long-held dream and became a father myself. A wonderful little boy came along who still amazes me to this day with his kindness and compassion and ability to make me smile and laugh. Another boy, who I cared for as an infant and then had to love from afar but never considered any lesser than my adopted son is in my heart returned to my daily life where he remains to this day, filling me with awe at his strength, resiliency, and courage. Both boys call me ‘Daddy’. I didn’t ‘make’ either one of them, in the biological sense. Their looks, their physical traits, their DNA come from other places and other people. That does nothing to detract from my love of them and commitment to them. I didn’t give them life, I just get to share it with them. I do give them what I can – security, stability, caring, compassion, the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years, and a deeply rooted desire to be a better parent to them than I feel my dad was able to be to me in my childhood. What they give to me outweighs anything I ever do for them.

Earlier this year I had to give them difficult news – that being that my husband and I had decided to divorce. They took it with some difficulty, for their own reasons. People say, and have said, ‘children bounce back’ and ‘children are resilient’ – and yet I still spent many sleepless hours thinking about the fact that I didn’t ever want them to HAVE to bounce back from that if it were at all preventable. In the end, though, it became a necessity, for the good of everyone involved. The boys have questioned the ‘why’ and offered their own ‘what if’ in the process, and I’ve told them both they did nothing to cause it, and therefore there is nothing they can do, nor should they try, to fix it.

A few days ago one of the boys gave me a ‘gift’. It wasn’t wrapped, nor did it have a fancy bow on it. He didn’t have to shop or order it online. It had no price tag attached to it, and yet the value of it, to me, like the few tangible remembrances I have of my dad, is immeasurable. It’s a single sheet of paper, with pictures and words on both sides. The pictures on the front side of the paper, one labeled good and the other bad depict my soon to be ex and I on one side (the good) with the words ‘will you marry me’ and on the other side (the ‘bad’) saying ‘We’re getting a divorce’ with two boys flanking us. In the lower right corner of the paper are the words ‘next page’, instructing me to turn it over, where I found, just above two small drawn faces topped by curly hair, the following words:

‘Meaning we were sad and still are but whatever makes you happy makes us happy and what makes you sad makes me sad.’

In a different spot in my bedroom I have another decorative box, larger than the one housing the last effects of my father. It’s rectangular in shape, perhaps 15 inches by 30 inches, hinged like a suitcase with a clasp to hold it shut. Inside the box are construction paper Father’s Day cards, small rocks, art work, school projects, questionnaires they filled out about what I look like and what my likes and dislikes are, letters to Santa Claus, a couple of shirts, and several other items that the kids either gave to me or represent a special occasion we shared or something we worked on together. I call it the ‘Daddy Box’. It, to me, holds something beyond the memories we have thus far made, for which there is no box large enough to hold them all. It holds things we created together, things that we both touched and held; the tangible evidence of a fraction of the love I have for both of them that they can perhaps one day hold in their own hands and reflect upon the day we made this or that, or the times I helped them button up that shirt, or the day we walked on the beach together and they picked up a small rock and presented it to me as if it were a diamond.

Today I’ve added an item, the sheet of paper described above, to the ‘Daddy Box’ in the hopes that my son will know, one day when I’m gone, how precious this was to me and how much comfort it gave to me to know that one of the things he has, whether it’s through any influence of mine upon him or not, is the ability to see beyond his own needs and wants – to hold the happiness of another up before him and offer compassion and understanding to them, despite his own feelings. It’s gestures like this that give me an inkling of the man he will hopefully become, that both of them will hopefully become, and the fathers they may one day be to children of their own.

I hope they both create a ‘Daddy Box’ of their own. I hope they one day experience even a small portion of the joy and happiness with and from their own children as I do with and from them. I hope that their ‘Daddy Box’, as well as I’m sure my own will, becomes two boxes, then three, and on and on.

But more than that, I hope theirs are filled with as much love as mine is for both of them.

Happy Father’s Day.





A Gift To My Son For Father’s Day

Mother’s Day came and went recently, and neither of my boys have their mom in their life.  One has not seen his mom since he was two. The other lost his mom nearly two years ago.  It is a day that can invoke so many feelings in a person based upon their relationship with their mom, or the lack thereof.

I drove to Maine and took my mother out for lunch the day before Mother’s Day, just as I will with my father this coming weekend.  Mom and I made a pact long ago to dispense with exchanging gifts any longer. We send cards, and place phone calls, and when time allows see one another in person.  I developed a belief several years ago that nothing material you can give to an older person means more to them than the time you spend with them as I visited my grandmothers in the years before their deaths.  One grandmother passed away ten years ago next month, and the other just a year ago now. I miss them both terribly.

Father’s Day is coming this Sunday.  I’m not looking for breakfast in bed, or a new tie, or one of those elementary school clay ashtrays with enough cigarette holding places for 700 smokers to come to my home at one time.  I don’t want cards from the kids, or ‘excellent behavior’ or a new drill….or anything like that.  I want to spend the day with them and enjoy them and find a million new reasons to be grateful that I have the chance to be called ‘Daddy’ by such wonderful little men.

My adopted son has been asking many questions about his mom recently.  I’ve been able to tell him some information, such as when her birthday is, how old she is, and what her first name is.  I know more, though we have no contact with her.  We have no baby pictures of him, unfortunately, and this fact has always made me sad whereas we likely never will, due to his infancy foster placement that went very awry and was terminated on very short notice.  Whereas he went into foster care at three months of age, he also carries no photos of his biological family.

When my son asks questions about his mother,  I answer him honestly in terms of not knowing where she is, or how to reach her.  He of course is curious about her.  He of course wishes to know where, and who, he comes from.  She and her life are not part of my story, nor of ‘our’ story as a father and son, but she is part of ‘his’ story, and always will be.

Some adoptive parents (one in particular that I know) have a great fear of adoptive children finding their biological family….it’s a fear of ‘losing them’ to their biological parent(s).  They feel threatened by the idea of it.  I don’t share this fear.  I only fear that finding them will perhaps hurt him….and not give him the answers he might be looking for….or perhaps will…and they will be answers he isn’t prepared to handle.  My own sister, before her death, found her biological siblings, and learned the reason why she was placed for adoption.   I think in ways it did her more harm than good to know the truth.

I suppose one day when he’s older my son might choose to find his biological family. In our technologically advanced society, it won’t be that difficult.

My other child, the nephew I am raising, has been talking a lot about his mother recently, and having grown up with her I have many stories to share…..and he has his own memories as well.  He has stories, some real, some embellished, that he’s been sharing lately.  It’s helping him through the grieving process right now and accepting her loss.

In being supportive and compassionate and talking to him about his mom, and the loss of her, I have to bear in mind that this is, in a different way, a similar loss for my adopted son.  With all the attention and love I am pouring into the child whose mother has died, I can’t overlook what this could be raising for the other child who hasn’t seen his mom since he was two.  No matter how much time and care I give to one child, the other child is bound to be affected by hearing all the ‘mom’ stories being relayed now.

My other child has no such stories.  He cannot tell you what his mom looks like, nor what her favorite color is.  He can’t talk about walking to the store with her and picking raspberries from a bush and eating them, nor relate trips to the park and playground with her and how much fun he had.   I have never been able to tell him to close his eyes and picture her in his mind when he’s missing her at night, and telling him to hold her there in his mind and keep her with him while he goes to sleep.

I have a love/hate relationship with the internet.  I find all the phishing and identity theft and scamming completely sickening and wonder why people can put so much effort into making the world more difficult for others….rather than doing something with their computer savvy to make it better?  I just don’t get it, and don’t think I ever will.  But when I find a two minute video online that allows me to fix (myself) a minor plumbing issue without calling anyone or spending a cent….I worship at the altar of the almighty WWW.COMToday I did some digging, on the internet, and was able to locate a picture of his mom.  It’s not terribly focused or fancy…she’s sitting in a chair with her feet up, smiling at the camera.  It took some effort to locate it, as she’s not active on social media (that I can find), but once I found this photo, the only one I could, I only had to look at her eyes to know I’d found the right person.  They are the same as my son’s eyes.  The likeness is unmistakable.

I decided to give my son a gift for Father’s Day, a little early, instead of anticipating anything from him. I printed off the picture and put it in a frame for him.  I will give it to him later on when he’s home from school, and tell him that the woman in the picture is his mom.  I suppose it will raise several questions for him about where I found it and if there are any others and why can’t we call her….I know the can of worms I’m potentially opening with this.  I know that it could give him some pangs of missing her and feeling sad that she’s not a part of his life.

More than anything, I hope that it gives him some comfort to at least look at her picture and see her face, smiling, and see the woman who gave him life.  At some point he may learn things about her that upset or sadden him, but at least for now he has something very real to hold onto, her photo, and look at and let his seven year old mind conjure up whatever stories and whatever life he wishes to ascribe to her.

It’s not my job, as an adoptive parent, to ever try to lessen the importance of where he comes from. It’s my job to focus on where he goes. That’s the promise I made, and the job I accepted….the hardest and most rewarding job I will ever have.  I hope that in giving him this gift I am steering him in a positive direction in coming to terms with his ‘story’ when he learns it all eventually.  I hope that if and when he does go looking for more answers, or even for his mom, he will realize that he has my full support in doing so, and I won’t try to stand in his way, and that he will recall this piece of the puzzle and where he got it, and know that I’ll be there for him to help him find the rest…and love him through whatever he finds.

I’m not giving this gift to my son to hurt or confuse him.  I’m giving it to him to show him (as I try to all year round) the depth of my love for him…that being his father means more to me than I can ever express, and that I want him to have the happiest life he possibly can, and to find all the answers to life’s questions, to his questions, and especially one of the biggest questions of all….who his mom is.

I give him this gift because no matter what he chooses to do with it…to put it on his bureau or on the fireplace mantle or tuck it under his pillow at night or toss it into a drawer and never look at it again….I want him to have his answers, age appropriately….and that having something of his mother with him in no way lessens or ‘threatens’ our relationship whatsoever.    She’s his mom….for better or for worse….whether she’s a part of his life or not.  Nothing I ever say or do will change that.

She brought him into this world…..I will help guide him through it.  I will give him this gift with a full heart and hope it means something very special to him.  Then I’ll hug him, and tell him I love him, and how happy I am that I get to be his dad, and know how much he thinks about her, especially right now, I wanted him to have something of her….I wanted him to have this gift…a picture of his mom.

Being his dad is the gift I gave to myself.