I woke up this morning with a question echoing through my head, instantly pushing aside the dreamy fog I usually relish in my quiet, orienting early morning moments. What causes a man to become a dad? How do the chances and choices of life move a male from becoming merely a co-contributor of DNA into the role of father, mentor, advocate, and friend? More importantly, what causes a man who didn’t contribute biologically to willingly; proudly weather the hard work it takes to earn the right to walk that path with a child?
Sneaking out of bed so as not to wake Lorenzo on this Father’s Day morning, I crept downstairs, fired up the coffee pot, stirred up some scones, and continued to muse on this unexpected question. And, as is often the case, I came back to a fundamental truth of my life: I know what I live; with whom I live; and what their lives and our collective living teach.
Besides my own father, there are men who have entered my life by chance – or divine providence, depending on your world and life view – and made the choice to make a significant impact and investment in my children and me.
I think of Sel, my mom’s husband. This is a man whose handshake is as binding as any legal contract. He was raised on a farm with a work ethic and sense of integrity that forms a core component of his character.
When he married my mom, I was an adult child with a daughter of my own. We experienced the blending, bonding – and sometimes bittersweet – moments many newly-formed American families encounter. What we never experienced, however, was a distinction between whose kids belonged to which parent. We were – are – his kids. All of us. He loves equally, gives generously, and proudly claims all of us as his own, just as we do him.
Megan, my daughter, is also a product of the blended families that so often define our American culture. When I married my beloved late husband Dennis, Megan was a slip of a child, bursting toward tomorrow with promise and potential. I was her advocate, cheerleader, and parent. What she needed was a mentor who offered unwavering stability, security, wisdom, acceptance, and love. In short, a dad.
In a thousand ways, through countless conversations, endless humor and insight, Dennis became Megan’s dad in every sense of the word. He never asked or expected her to name him as such – she just did, because he was – and still is.
And now, in this season of life, there is my husband Lorenzo. Again, a blended family with three children who entered our lives in various ages and stages of development.
Even before we married, Lorenzo made the decision to be a father equally to each of our three kids. Becoming a part of Megan’s life just as she was graduating from high school, he knew he could never create the “daddy” moments of a little girl growing up. He didn’t even try.
Instead, he met her where she was at in life, becoming the dad who helped move her in and out of college dorm rooms – sometimes at 2 a.m. – often in 100+ degree temperatures that offer an added badge of courage and distinction to an Arizona State University education. It’s an alma mater bond that they proudly share.
When Lorenzo first ran for office, he recognized she was heading toward a career in politics. Without hesitation, it was 18-year-old Megan he chose to serve as his campaign manager. He opened up his network to her, gave her his unwavering trust and backing to represent him, and worked side-by-side with her as they learned, lost – and eventually won – together.
With our boys, I watch Lorenzo carefully observe their distinct and often disparate interests with equal pride and attention. For Adam, the oldest boy, there is a shared entrepreneurial bent toward business development. Lorenzo shares generously with Adam the lessons he learned from his Fortune 500 days, while also inviting Adam’s insights into the millennial workforce and emerging trends and technologies shaping a global economy.
Roman, our youngest, is entering his senior year of high school. Lorenzo is teaching him to drive; a perfect metaphor as Roman transitions from boy to young man. I see Lorenzo gauging the balance between overt instruction and silent intuition. He recognizes the need for Roman to make important decisions, learning – and sometimes failing – with a safety net that a dad provides so the fall is not too fast or far.
Today, on this Father’s Day, I am thinking of my own dad, along with Sel, Dennis, and Lorenzo. Their lives are woven into mine – into my children’s. In both singular and collective decisions, they have intentionally created the threads that bind individuals into families.
Let’s be honest. It has not been easy. Sometimes, it still isn’t. There have been moments of awkwardness and anger. There have been times of failure and disappointment. But, at the heart of it all, there has been a conscious decision that we are a family. And when we fail, we learn to fail a little bit better each time. We become stronger in the process. We are a family, by chance and by choice. This is what families and fathers do.
My coffee is now cold and I hear Lorenzo stirring upstairs. It’s time to refill my cuppa and get this Father’s Day started.
To Sel, Dennis, and Lorenzo, thank you for taking the chance and making the choice to become the husbands, fathers, and friends who hold together the fabric of our collective family. Happy Father’s Day.