WHAT is a father, ANYWAY?
When people ask “what is a father”, that’s something I’ve struggled to adequately answer for years.
Through my many years spent as a dad blogger, I’ve tried repeatedly to create work that explains how I see myself as a dad. I’ve floundered over and over again in the process, never seeming to find the right words to fit, but it’d eventually be my newfound love for search engine optimization that’d give me some guidance on the kinds of things that people want to know about being a dad. Not all the questions go super deep, with many just at the beginning of the journey, but those questions gave me the building blocks I needed to tell my story in a way that others would understand.
And I think it’s important that I do—we have this oversimplified idea of what a father’s supposed to be, force-fed to us by a society who saw the dad as one thing. The father as the silent, grumpy disciplinarian, meant to be respected and feared. The one-dimensional dad who can throw a ball or barbecue a steak, but has little to offer by the way of household or emotional support.
But in 2021, I think we want to strive for a new standard, finding ways to show the world what the #DadLife’s really about instead of the stereotype we keep clinging to.
I’m Casey Palmer, and I’m a dad. Let me tell you a little of what that’s all about.
The Definition of a Dad: A Study in Fatherhood
1) What Does it MEAN to be a Dad?
The thing about fatherhood is that it becomes a whole lot clearer just what you’re willing to do for your kids as they grow older and their worlds grow bigger, but at the same time, the answer to this becomes infinitely more complex the longer you do it.
I’ve always been here for my children, closing in on ten years of marriage in a home where they can truly be themselves. I haven’t had to sacrifice my time with them nearly as much as my dad did with me, his sacrifice building the intergenerational growth needed for us to lead better lives. The push he gave me to get a Canadian university education led me to my career, meeting Sarah, and having jobs that’d get me home in time for dinner and stories. There’s no criminal record, baby mama drama or anything that complicates my life—I wake up every day and do whatever needs doing, whether that’s taking a walk outside to play some Pokémon GO on some of my old phones they’ve made their own or drawing comic books with them using the bounty of art supplies I’ve collected over the years.
But I’d be naïve to think that my experience is the same as everyone else’s.
2) Why did I BECOME a dad, though?
I never planned to be a dad, to be honest. I always figured it’d just happen when the time was right, and the pieces pretty much fell into place a few years into our marriage.
At 30, our careers were well-established and we’d already accomplished plenty together. We had a nice home just minutes from downtown Toronto, a two-bedroom bungalow that’d serve us for many years to come. We’d honeymooned in Europe and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Though I spent many of my months expecting our first child getting as much off of my to-do list as possible, we’d packed plenty of experiences into a short amount of time, so when Sarah proposed we start trying for kids, I didn’t push back too hard.
But deciding to become a dad and understanding what fatherhood means to you are two different things entirely, and seven years into my life as a dad blogger, I’ve only started to scratch the surface of it all.
3) What the dad life means to me: no dad is an island, INDEED.
When I started writing my book, it had me take a profound look at not only my fatherhood experience but the experiences of the fathers who came before me as well.
My father came from a background where he didn’t really have a father at all, a son to an alcoholic, abusive man who could never live up to the fatherhood calling. And as a result, he wanted us to have all the things we never had, working relentlessly at running a restaurant to keep a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. It took me ages to understand his sacrifice, but I eventually realised this was how he not only showed his love, but prepared us to do even more as dads of our kids than he could do for us.
But it’s taught me that my fatherhood journey isn’t isolated. My journey’s the result of intergenerational impacts, both good and bad alike, setting the tone for everything I can offer my kids, with a spin on it from my individual experiences.
Dad life, though—it’s something I didn’t fully appreciate until the COVID-19 pandemic, with all the extra exposure to my kids teaching me more about them, who I am as a father, and how I cope with all the adversity.
The Dad Life is a challenge, though, trying to do everything I can to provide for my kids while simultaneously managing their every want and whim. I find it an impossible balance, but parenting is the longest game—if I’m not willing to uphold my role as a father, I only have myself to blame for the eventual consequences.
4) But what makes a GOOD dad?
That said, there’s a saying that sums fatherhood up nicely:
“Any man can be a father, but it takes a real man to be a dad.”
My kids help me understand that they won’t always be the children I expect them to be because they are their own people with a different experience in the world than I do. I might not always like it—after all, I grew up in a home that always placed respect as a priority—but I try to understand things from their perspectives as often as I possibly can and give them the space to express themselves that didn’t often exist for first-generation Canadian children back in the ’80s and ’90s.
The very idea of what a father is to a son is changing as we start evolving our views on masculinity, accepting that we need to offer all of ourselves to our children instead of the bare minimum—that we need to model a different kind of manhood if we want to give them a chance to thrive.
What makes a good father is the willingness to adapt to an ever-changing world. To paraphrase what Kenneth Kellogg said in the opening keynote for 2020’s Dad 2.0 conference, we don’t need to get our kids ready for the world. It’s the world we need to ready for our kids.
5) So what is a father? What’s the REAL definition of a dad? I’m still figuring it OUT.
Ultimately, what I’m discovering about being a dad is that there’s still so much to know. What projects like my book on Black fatherhood and the posts I write for Father’s Day teach me is that fatherhood doesn’t look the same for all the families out there. Some families have father figures. Some families don’t have fathers at all. But what I know at the very least is that my kids’ lives would be much different if I weren’t around, and so I do whatever I can to make that count.
Do fathers matter? Are dads even necessary? I want to think that we do. But it will be some time yet till we understand how much, so in the meantime? Just be the best dads that you can.
Good luck out there, everybody, and till the next, this is Casey Palmer, signing off!
Posts in my “Forty Days to Father’s Day” Series
- Forty Days to Father’s Day: The Intro
- What IS a Father? The Definition of a Dad.
- The Importance of Sharing Fatherhood Stories
- Who Wants to be a Dad, ANYWAY?
- Getting Ready for a BABY: First Steps to Fatherhood!
- First Steps to Fatherhood: A Year Makes a Difference!
- 13 Things Dads Need to Know When Having Kids
- It’s Not Babysitting if it’s Your Kid.