What’s a Real Dad Look Like?

Throughout my wife’s first pregnancy and the first several months of Eldest’s life, I had difficulty believing that I was a father.  The guy in the mirror was the same one that I’d known throughout my life and it didn’t register that now I was going to be someone akin to my own father and all of his peers.  What precisely should a father look like?  Certainly not the guy who several years before was partying in a club.  The idea of fatherhood has settled with time and I now suspect that I appear to my own kids as my dad appeared to me.  But the big secret is that there is no father "look" that makes one stand out as an identifiable dad.

If you want to examine this, spend time watching the men who are with their kids at events.  The event to which I’m referring now was the weekend cub scout resident camp attended by about 150 boys and their accompanying parents – a few moms but mostly dads.  What do I notice about the guys?

  • Most fathers favor beaten and semi-ratty baseball caps, the bills comfortably bent and the headband stained with sweat.
  • The large majority of us have short haircuts that are easy to clean and maintain and a fairly sizeable minority is bald.
  • Many of the fathers are at least in their mid-thirties and some of us are significantly older than that.  There are very few fathers who are discernibly less than thirty years of age.
  • Many of the fathers carry a corresponding paunch varying from mild love handles to beer kegs.  The arms might be thick and muscular but the midsection is as well.
  • Many of the fathers thrived on the morning cup of coffee and are capable of making it last until the early afternoon.
  • Many of the fathers looked at their sons with a varying mix of love, exasperation and wonderment, realizing that they too were once as spastic and wild as their boys.
  • This father at least wished that there could be a similar event to share with the daughter, but is aware that Girl Scout guidelines forbid close distances between men and girls at campsites and that the sense is that men are discouraged from attending due to liability guidelines.
  • All of the fathers were walking billboards, carrying ads and insignia on the caps and shirts.  These range from favorite fishing and boating businesses to NASCAR sponsors and even the Israeli Defense Force.
  • Many of the fathers understood the concept of pacing oneself as the boys run ahead, saving themselves for when they have to carry the boys before Taps sounds in the mid-evening.  The kids can run, but the Dads will find a spot to sit whenever possible. 
  • Despite the regulations about all medications being handled at the camp first-aid cabin, more than a few of us kept a small bottle of Advil in our kit.
  • Many of the fathers kept a running dialogue with their sons about the location of towels, trunks and toothbrushes.
  • More than one father was heard to say of course there are flies out here, you’re camping.  What do you expect?
  • Many fathers looked uncomfortable singing at the first night’s campfire but by the third night, were shouting at the top of their lungs during the songs.
  • While some mothers were concerned with the boys’ appearance – and I have heard more than one talk through the years about staying clean and neat – the fathers’ attitude was indifference.  You’re camping, what do you expect?

There is no look to fatherhood and there is no image.  We’re all different but strikingly similar in the desire to see our kids grow well into productive adults who can handle whatever comes along.  And if that means that we’re dirty, sweaty and unkempt, so be it.

We’re camping.  What do you expect?

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