When I think of my dad, I try to remember the good times—how he was the only dad on the entire block to play hide and seek with the neighborhood kids, how he rarely refused a game of catch in the backyard.
When I think of parenting my own child now, I try to remember the joy those simple moments still bring.
I don’t block out the rest.
But I certainly don’t emulate it.
Sometimes the best role models in life are the ones you least expect—the ones you think about if only to say, “Thanks for the example. I’ll do the opposite.”
I Lean In to fatherhood because he leaned out.
He was the dad who barely made a game, while I’m the coach of two sports.
I don’t remember working on any school work or home projects with him, while I wrote a book with my daughter about crafting.
These seem trivial compared to the rest, and it frightens me how difficult it is to escape paternal ghosts.
Larkin famously wrote:
“They F@#! up, your mom and dad
They may not mean to but they do
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.”
My father drank far too much and found sobriety far too late for our family.
I stopped drinking early, when it finally occurred to me I was on the same path. Many, many years and the distance between us gladdens me.
It’s tough when my daughter asks about her grandpa, because there’s so much I want to tell her. But I also don’t want to scare her. I don’t want her to even remotely consider the possibility that dads just suddenly walk away, empty bank accounts, leave kids hungry and confused, end up drifting around the country, calling every now and then to talk about therapy. Every 14-year-old’s dream.
Instead, I focus on the good parts; the games of catch and hide and seek, the simple things that filled my soul with joy, and to this day provide happy memories, even if others soon come clouding in.
“That’s like you!” she squeals, “You like to play with me too!”
If only fatherhood were that easy, if only it were all playtime and hushed hiding places. But we learn from the good and even from the bad, and I’m grateful on many levels to feel the joy of each day of really, truly leaning in.
We’re celebrating Father’s Day by celebrating leaning into fatherhood and by recognizing the extraordinary men that are our own fathers. We hope that it will inspire you to thank your own dad or the dad who most inspires you. Find more letters and stories about leaning into parenthood here. And, of course, find your own Lean In inspiration at LeanIn.org.