Being A Daddy Without An Example

It’s hard to be a good dad. It’s even harder when you don’t have an example to look up to. Dr. Adam Starks shares his personal story.

Nothing in this world has been more rewarding than fathering children with Emily, my wonderful wife of 12 years. After 26 hours of painstaking labor, our first son was delivered via C-section on January 1st, 2005. Beforehand, I recall containing my leap for joy and elated scream when the ultrasound revealed that our first child was a boy. However, the moment he came into the world and the nurses handed him to me, my overwhelmed joy spilled out in the form of tears. As a twenty-four year old man, it was the first time I’d wept tears of joy. Going on ten, Jayden is an imaginative, brilliant, witty, sensitive child without a care in the world. It pains me to bring him back into focus to prepare him for a chaotic world, but I know it’s my ultimate role as a father. It’s what I would’ve wanted from my father to avoid the endless trial and error life I led as a foster child.

My second son, Isaiah, burst into this world on December 3rd, 2007. Isaiah is all rough and tumble, but with a little philosopher mixed in. At four years of age, he was asking if angels were real and where did we go when we died. At six years old, we’re having discussions on race relations. In between throwing elbow drops into my rib cage, he’s a constant barrage of relevant questions I don’t always have the answer to. My most important aim with my middle child is to always let him know that I’ll be there to listen and find the answer if I don’t know. Although he tries to negotiate his way out of everything from dinner to bed time, he keeps me thinking. That’s what I love about him most.

All I can hope for my three children is that they will listen to the mistakes I’ve made and avoid the traps I inadvertently stepped into. From what I know, that’s what being a new generation daddy means to me, and I take absolute pride in that role.

In August 2013, five days before my birthday, we welcomed Susannah into the world. Our first girl has certainly been a game changer, but she completes our family. Her little smile is contagious, but she’s quite demanding on reading time (the same one 20+ times a day) and getting her fair share of play time with her big brothers. To keep up with what everyone else was doing, she began walking at 8 months, which left me scrambling to get baby gates throughout the home. She’s observant, beautiful and just downright brilliant!  I see another glass ceiling coming down just looking at her. After being “broken in” by two high octane boys, raising a daughter is going to be a lot of fun.

Nurturing three amazing children has presented its share of challenges. I didn’t always get the discipline right. I’ve forgotten to pack snacks in their book bag or accidently skipped over a sporting event. I gave them chicken nuggets twice in one week or probably shouldn’t have given them gummy bears so close to bed time.  Maybe we shouldn’t have played video games for that extra hour.

On the other hand, the boys study through summer so they retain the lessons learned and get ahead of the pack for the next school year.  We’ve received compliments on their behavior in restaurants and theaters. We even received a 15% discount at Kohl’s for their “exceptional behavior!” We read every night before bed. We hike and connect with nature. They eat plenty of fruits and take daily vitamins. They don’t get to play violent video games or know about the evils that lurk in the world. That time will come. For now, they get to be kids. In doing so, it is my hope that they will be at the center of what’s right in this world. They will make the correct decisions when the time comes. They will be able to separate fantasy from reality and excel at work that fulfills their needs. The path that I took to reach a successful stage in life is a continual learning process. All I can hope for my three children is that they will listen to the mistakes I’ve made and avoid the traps I inadvertently stepped into. From what I know, that’s what being a new generation daddy means to me, and I take absolute pride in that role.

I didn’t have the privilege of knowing my father. My generation experienced fatherlessness at an epidemic rate. As a result, there are many misguided men wandering aimlessly today continuing the cycle or in search for a sense of belonging. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I was led down a different path. I paid close attention to sitcom fathers for my queues and even had a family drafted on paper by the time I was sixteen. Before then, I was fortunate enough to have an innate nurturing capability. I wanted to be a daddy as far back as I can remember. I’ll admit that a void still exists today from my absentee father, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying to be the best one I can be today. Excuses are irrelevant once a child is born. Their reflection of me (can’t deny those ears on all three of them!) was the only signal I needed to answer the call to fatherhood.

With that in mind, seeing so many men not only step up, but surpass expectations with advice for other fledgling dads on blogs and other social media networks connects us in many ways. The support system for the various daddy sites have been an invaluable tool for my well-being and reassurance.  The overarching message I’ve received in a comforting acknowledgement is that we’re all going through parenting haphazardly. I’ve discovered that the most important element of the fun, yet challenging voyage is presence. It’s something I struggle with every day, but just being there and supporting them through engagement is the most cherished gift we can give to our children.

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