REFLECTIONS ON BEING A FATHER
It was recently Father’s Day. I was up on the mountain reading in the Metro Post about children who were effusive about love for their fathers. How wonderful all of them were! Unreserved, heart warming statements sparkled from every letter. But realistically, could all these fathers have been as wonderful as described? If so, they must have been faultless individuals who never did any wrong, were unfailingly loving, tender, and always loving to their children. I somehow doubt that happened. But I also need to acknowledge my severe deficiencies in this area. I’m never going to read such plaudits from my first three children. Perhaps I will from Sunshine who is my fourth. She’s seven years young and my final chance at fatherhood redemption.
I deserted my first son Brian when he was four. I selfishly picked up and disappeared. My final memory of him back then was seeing him crying through the curtains of our home in Ireland as I drove away out of his life and into my pursuit of self destruction.
Two exceptional children emerged from my second marriage in America. Their mother took them to France for a year when my daughter Shannon was ten and my son Emmett seven. She was supposed to return to California with them after a year, but never did. I’m not saying that as an implied criticism. She probably behaved in what she believed were the best interests of herself and our children. I subsequently lapsed into destructive behavior mixing with dangerous company, taking hard drugs, and, on a daily basis, doing life threatening binge drinking. Those usually lethal combinations nearly killed me, but against all odds, I survived and eventually got clean. My physical health is now excellent. Not coincidentally, I’m also clean and sober today.
It’s easy to create children, but, for me, a challenge to be a good, or even competent, father. But in partial defence for my past behavior, I believe I’ve done everything possible to correct my negative behavior toward Brian, Shannon and Emmett. I believe it’s realistic to say that, overall, it’s gone well. Now let let me tell you how exceptional my children are.
My first born named Brian faced numerous challenges since birth. He had to remain in the maternity hospital for the first two weeks of his life due to health issues. Both his parents were alcoholics. Chaos soon became the norm for this innocent child.. Although materially successful, neither of his parents were competent parents. The alcoholic way of life is no respecter of class or culture. It violently destroys everything in it’s path. And so it did to his parents’ relationship with each other and with their child. Brian was an innocent victim of circumstances. He was powerless to protect himself from the forces aligned against him. After I took off, a new man came into his mother’s life. But he also had serious issues. He killed himself when Brian was nine. He’d been Brian’s real father. At a tender, young age, Brian had been deserted by the two father figures in his life.
Brian was a child growing up in a dysfunctional environment with zero structure in his life and an abundance of madness consistently whirling around him. The likelihood of such a child emerging into manhood as a well functioning adult were indeed remote. But somehow Brian defied those odds.
After I got sober, I spent many years attempting to reconcile with him. I once flew across the continent of America from San Francisco to Boston in order to have a three hour meeting with him. I’m not sure he ever realized that. But, for me, it confirmed my willingness to go to any lengths to connect with him although I knew I never could “make things right.” Irreparable damage had already been done. But I always tried to find a way for us to develop some tentative form of relationship however fragile the outcome might be.
I was living in Brazil and had a company there. I invited Brian to leave Ireland and work with me in South America. Despite having little formal education, Brian was effortlessly brilliant and effective when dealing with senior executives. I was so proud of him. And it was in Brazil he met his lovely Brazilian wife. Brian had been engaged before and was a wild man with the women, but he finally found his match in Amazonian Cindy. They now live in Ireland.
We are now close friends. I love Brian very much and am deeply grateful for his forgiveness. I spent years writing a book partly as a form of inexpensive therapy, but primarily as an apology to Brian. The book, which sold well internationally, had a dedication that read “For my son Brian, with regret at a childhood denied, but with joy at the man you have become.”
My daughter Shannon was always exceptionally bright academically. She attended only private French schools in America before moving to France where she continued in the Lycee educational system. She was awarded a high level International baccalaureate in France. Because of this, she had a wide choice if first class universities worldwide she could attend. But, with acting and professional performing in her blood from both sides of her parents’ families, she instead decided on acting for her professional career. After graduating from the excellent James Madison University in West Virginia, she moved to Manhattan, New York where she has lived for several years.
Sadly, I’m not part of Shannon’s life. I don’t understand why. We had always been very close but she has chosen to distance herself from me. She’s twenty eight now. Would I recognize her if we met on the street? Probably , but not certainly. That’s one fact I find painful to acknowledge. It’s been a long term pattern of Shannon’s to disappear from my life, then suddenly reappear, so I’m hopeful she may reconnect at some future time. But if she doesn’t, that’s still acceptable to me. Besides, what other choice do I have other than to accept her rejection? One of my most important life lessons is to accept all that is, rather than yearn for what is not. Therefore, I focus on sweet memories of Shannon when she was younger. She remains precious to me and knows that. I always offer her that much misunderstood phrase, unconditional love, and accept her for both who she is and who she is not. And I’m grateful for what we have shared in the past. Rather than being saddened by emotions focusing on what might have been, I rejoice in what we once shared together during more innocent times. To react otherwise is, for me, an embarrassing form of self pity.
Then there’s my youngest son Emmett. Ah, charming, bubble blowing, peace and love, martial arts cage fighter, Emmett. Such a character! He dropped out of a theoretically excellent university because he felt it was interfering with his education. I could justify asking him to be my teacher for the wisdom displayed in that one statement alone! But there’s so much more to this complex, highly evolved young man. He’s so intelligent I, who am reasonably well educated and a solid debater, can stay with him intellectually for five minutes at most before I’m lost. At a relatively young age, Emmett has evolved to a level I’m incapable of understanding. He’s now twenty five and fully engaged in experiencing life. He’s a world traveller, a man women adore. He loves challenges and new experiences. His most recent adventure was getting up at four thirty each morning for six months to train in mixed martial arts. That culminated in him being one of two fighters selected from thirty two trainees for the main fight event recently in San Francisco. He not only won the fight, but predicted when and how he would end it. He subsequently told me the fight was a transcendent experience, he wasn’t really physically present. Oh joy!
He will leave California next month to earn money for his next adventure. He’ll work as a bosun of a luxury yuaght sailing between the Bahamas and New York. After four months he’ll have saved enough to travel for two years. In October this year he will come to spend time with me in the Philippines before heading to Thailand to learn more about their style of martial arts.
A fascinating character, with an exceptionally high IQ, and an insatiable taste for adventure. Of my three children he is probably closest to my personality, but fortunately without my destructive tendencies and addictions.
I’ve already mentioned that Sunshine is my final opportunity for parental redemption. I’m not her biological father but I am her daddy. Her official name is Jermaigne Leonisse, but I call her Sunshine. Regardless of any issues in my life, every time I look at her and she smiles back, my consciousness explodes into the brightness of a thousand suns. Apart from having an occasional tendency for drama, she’s an adorable child, has a cheerful disposition, and has generously accepted me as her father.
I ended this year’s Father’s Day feeling inwardly silent, a contended smile on my face, and, dare I sat it, happy. First, my son Brian made contact to wish me a happy Father’s Day. That was special. Later on, after reading a nighttime story to Sunshine, I cuddled her as usual. Before she drifted off to sleep, she held me tightly and whispered “I love you so much Daddy.” As she hugged me, I silently cried while hoping she wouldn’t notice. Then she turned over and drifted off into a place only children who know they are loved can ever go. I silently stood looking down at her feeling happy but also sad knowing that later on, life will inevitably disappoint her. But for now she is safe. Everything is beautiful for her.
In that moment I realized I was doing the role of a loving father. And, while I can’t correct my past mistakes, I’ve done all possible to make amends to my other children. Am I now a perfect father? Definitely not. I never will be. But am I a hopeless one like before? Perhaps not.