Dear Dad: Fathers Who Leave Will Never Know What They've Missed

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michael boatman

Courtesy of Michael Boatman.

"Daddy ... I don't feel good."

I groaned. Loudly. I was hoping to "accidentally" wake up my wife so she could deal with my 4-year-old and her sick stomach. It was 3 a.m. I was tired and I had a TV show to do. But my wife, exhausted from continuous breast-feeding and caring for our teething 1-year-old, grunted and rolled over, conveniently deeply unconscious.

How nice for her. I gritted my teeth, swore under my breath and rolled over just in time for the 4-year-old to throw up in my face.

That's it. I'm done. I'm dripping with vomit and I'm not even drunk. This fatherhood thing is for the birds.

I was about to run to the bathroom. I was about to scream for my wife. Then the 4-year-old spoke through her tears.

"I'm sorry, Daddy."

There we were, in a darkened hotel room in New York, and my daughter, who was suffering from a painful stomach virus, was worried about me. Everything I thought I knew about myself before that moment evaporated.

I swept her up, carried her into the bathroom and hosed her off. Then I tucked her into bed, brushed my teeth and snuggled with her until she went to sleep. Some part of the old Me died that night: That was the moment I truly became a father.

I think a lot about fatherhood. I know lots of guys who do the same things I do with my kids: the daily chaos, the running flotilla of battles, boo-boos and birthdays. But I think mostly about my own father.

He left our family before his signature on my birth certificate was dry. I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen him since. For me, the questions started early on: How could he leave us? How could he leave me? I'm delightful. Fortunately, thanks to therapy and the love of family and friends, I've moved beyond my anger about my father. But sometimes I still wonder if he ever really understood.

Since the Night of the Great Hotel Regurgitation, I've had countless similar moments with my children. I've been peed on, drenched with all manner of fluids and/or solids. I've been kicked, punched, half drowned and head-butted into semi-unconsciousness.

I've also lost my temper and come to understand the importance of admitting when I was wrong. I've answered endless questions about THE WAY THINGS ARE. With tears in my eyes, I've watched them sing off-key. I've cheered as they hit home runs and stuck tricky landings and hugged them when they brought home blue ribbons or black eyes.

Those moments draw me out of my head and into my life. They teach me the single greatest lesson a father can ever know: The joy that comes from being present for your kids. Even though it's the toughest job I've ever had, that lesson brings me the best joy.

Like many modern families, Father's Day has become something of a running joke around my house. Somewhere back during the last Ice Age, the focus of Father's Day shifted out from under me. Mother's Day became the day with real juice. In my house, Mother's Day usually involves me taking our four kids out of the house so my wife can do whatever she wants for the day. Whereas Father's Day ... involves me taking our four kids out of the house so my wife can do whatever she wants for the day.

"No," my wife insists. "It's so that you can spend the day ... fathering your children."

By the time I realize I've been had, we're off to the movies, the carnival or whatever local family freak show my wife dug up on the way to a Father's Day "moms only" margarita mixer with her girlfriends. I swallow my pride and play along: Inevitably, I end up having a great time, and even through the death throes of my rapidly dwindling ego, the basic tenet of my existence only strengthens: I love these four people who happen to share my DNA more than I love myself.

It's because of them that I hope to be a better man. I think of the fathers who go off to find some imaginary better life, and all the tragedy that leaving causes: They'll never know the joys, the laughter, the adventures that only come with time spent loving and raising your children. I think of the fathers who leave. And I recognize the other great tragedy: They'll never know what they missed.

And so, for the fathers who kiss boo-boos and cheer home runs, who attend Saturday morning tea parties and spend hours Googling just to answer endless questions about The Way Things Are. To the ones who stay:

Happy Father's Day.

Michael Boatman is an actor and author currently seen on "The Good Wife" and "Gossip Girl." He is the author of two novels "The Revenant Road" and "The Red Wake," numerous short stories, and the short story collection "God Laughs When You Die." You can read his blog on Red Room.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.