Some people think it’s funny to joke about not knowing your father. I don’t think it’s funny, because I don’t have a father. Surely I must, you think, or else I would not have been born. True. My father does indeed exist. In fact, he is alive and well. I don’t know him, though. I mean, I know that he retired from General Motors Corporation as a skilled trade’s mechanic who worked on big trucks. I also know that he enjoys cruising in his Harley Davidson Fat Boy. I even have his cell phone number stored in my phone. I told you, though, that I don’t know him. He and my mother divorced when I was two. They’ve both since remarried, and I suppose I could call my stepfather ‘dad’, but that is not the point.
My father’s side of the family actually has a long history of divorce. It’s said that divorce affects children, and it seems to have been passed down paternally through the generations. His father, my paternal grandfather, was my grandmother’s first husband. All good. Until they divorced when my father was a child. My paternal grandfather came back into my father’s life later when I was born, but that only lasted until my parents divorced a couple of years later. My grandfather’s parents, who are my father’s grandparents and my great-grandparents, they were divorced too. Not one, not two, but three generations of divorced couples. Quite the track record.
Boys need fathers. It is my humble yet experience-induced opinion that boys need fathers more than anyone else. Even more than daughters need their mothers. I grew up without my father. I have received no more than a handful of birthday cards, and spent a couple of summers there when I was younger. It’s not enough. Boys are full of energy, need to play, and they need a father to understand and facilitate that. Don’t get me wrong, my mother and stepfather did a great job. It’s just not the same. Boys get older, more rambunctious, and eventually they hit puberty. If you had told my parents that all the years of running after me were only going to get worse, they probably wouldn’t have believed you.
Puberty is possibly the most difficult time of life for a boy, just as I’m sure it can be on girls as well. Hormones exacerbate everything into calamity, and we all need that support network to help us through it. That’s where fathers usually step in, but I wasn’t so fortunate. I’m not going to blame anyone, because I don’t think missing fathers understand how much they’re needed during these trying times. Nobody was there to explain to me why not to wear a gallon of cologne, how to shave my face without cutting myself, and even explain thoughts on masturbation. I had to figure it all out on my own. Of course that includes girls as well, experiencing all the teenage heartache a father should be there to help with.
We get through it, though, well enough. My behavior during those adolescent years ended up with me being sent to an all-boys school as a disciplinary measure to ‘keep me on track’. That’s where I learned the value of male bonding, because without the distractions of girls and teaching styles that saved us a little from having to sit in a chair all day and listen to adults talk, I was allowed to just be a boy. We were allowed to vent our frustrations in a controlled environment, and I made some of the best friends of my life there. We shared a growing love of sports, and some of us are still friends to this day. Girls were really something none of us had to worry about because we could just be ourselves.
Then high school came, and it was a small culture shock. I loved the learning part of school, but things are so much different in a coeducational environment. The focus shifts from male friendships to female courtships, and friends are not as easily made. I was still a little rambunctious, just a little more controlled when I was under a watchful eye, but I lost out on those feelings of brotherhood that I once so enjoyed. I think this is another crucial time for fathers to be there to teach boys how to become adults. As high school draws to a close, boys (and girls) have to figure out what they want to do with their lives. That is something I think fathers often shape in boys. “Like father, like son,” the saying goes.
I didn’t know what to be after high school. Growing up, I had emulated superheroes and professional athletes, as many young boys do. When you get a little older, though, and those plans start to seem a little less realistic, a boy has to figure out how to make his mark in the world. If my father was around, maybe I would’ve been interested in cars and become a mechanic, or raced dirt bikes, or something like that. Without a father, though, I had to look elsewhere. I spent much of my time during my youth with my grandfather, who was a Marine lieutenant between the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He probably influenced me the most, but I also looked up to some authors and historical icons. It’s not the same.
What I really want to press here is that boys need fathers. If you have a son, don’t let him be exposed to the world all on his own. Give him some comfort and nurture, and help guide him into adulthood. If you don’t have kids, the next time you see a little boy down the street playing all alone, try to be his friend, just like a big brother. That’s the next best thing. There was a little boy that I used to let come over and play video games, until his mother became uncomfortable with it. Not everybody is Jerry Sandusky, lady. That dude is fucking weird. Boys need fathers, or big brothers, so if you’re a guy, you owe them some of that time. Be an influence in a young man’s life, and you can change his world for the better.