Being asked to write an article about fatherhood when you’re still a somewhat newish parent is pretty intimidating. I’ve only been a dad for a little over 18 months, so what do I know?
The answer: Not too much! Or at least it feels that way sometimes. But, in the spirit of Father’s Day, I thought I’d write a little about my personal experience becoming a father and what little I think I’ve figured out.
Becoming a Father Without My Own
My dad died six weeks before my daughter was born. I wasn’t ready for it. The grief that followed hit in waves; there were times when I felt like I had accepted the fact that he was gone, only to be struck again by the realization that I’ll never hear his voice again or get another hug from him.
But as time goes on, I’m finding that the most heartbreaking part about losing him is that he never got to see me be a dad. It’s something that was taken from us, and as my daughter grows so does the list of the things he missed out on.
Remembering My Dad
Some things about him: He was a busy guy who worked maybe too hard. He was an excellent cook, a computer whiz, a talented guitar player, and could hold his own in any discussion on current events or politics. He was sort of a renaissance man who excelled at anything he put any amount of effort into; I think he was probably the smartest person I knew (no offense to other people I know).
I never really took the time to examine our relationship while he was here. I was lucky, he was a good father. It was that simple. But, obviously, when someone close to you dies you spend a lot of time looking back at your time with them. With my dad, I noticed there was a through line; my most distinct memories of us involved him teaching me something.
Your Child’s First Teacher
To say it’s important to be a good teacher for your child is a given, but the memories you create with them through teaching are just as important as the lesson being taught. When I think of my dad giving me my first guitar lesson, I’m not thinking about what he actually taught me. I’m thinking of his smile when things clicked and I could strum my first few chords.
When I think about the time he taught me how to play chess, I’m not thinking about the rules of chess. I’m thinking about us playing a game every night before I went to bed for a month, even though he usually had a full night of work ahead of him.
Now that my dad is gone those memories are what I, and my daughter who won’t ever get the chance to know him, have left. I try to keep that in mind as she gets older and be present for her at all times so she can have what I had growing up. It’s not always easy, especially when you’re busy or exhausted or stressed, to take advantage of every little teachable moment.
But I want to give her those same memories and experiences my father gave me.
After she was born I learned that the importance of creating those memories goes both ways. Something that happens when you become a parent is you get a new perspective on your own parents. You get why they worry, you get why they’re stressed. You also understand that when they took the time to teach you how to ride a bike they weren’t just doing it for you, they were doing it for themselves as well. That satisfaction and the memories that come with it are for the both of you.
Now I’m on the other side; I’m a father. I look at my daughter and can’t possibly describe the love I have for her. Then I think of my Dad looking at me when I was that age, and think of him feeling that same way. Most of us have been told at some point by our parents, “One day, when you have kids, you’ll understand,” and I do.
A few days ago, I was thinking about how my daughter probably won’t remember anything of her life up to this point when she is older. It’s kind of sad to think she’ll just forget all of the joy we’ve experienced with her in the last year and a half. But, those memories can be ours to share with her later, and we’ll be sure to make more as we go.
And, for the record, I have a wonderful mom, too.
Ryan Weisse lives in Fargo with his wife Morgan, daughter Emery, and their two cats Franklin and Juney. He graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead with a Bachelor’s in English. He has spent the last 8 years working for Fargo Public Schools and plays guitar in the band Home State.