Sunday, June 15, 2008

What's a Father?

Above: My dad and me in 1974. My dad was only 17 years old in this photo, I am 5 months old.

I don't remember the last time I wished my father a Happy Father's Day, oh it was probably 10 years ago or more. I don't feel the urge or the need to rush and call him, send him a card or contact him in anyway to wish him a Happy Father's Day. Call me cruel, call me a terrible son, or whatever else you may think, but I just don’t have any feelings for the man. He was never there for me and honestly, he has no idea who I am today as a person. The man gave me life and I am thankful for that, but in my eyes that's all he did. I don't consider him "my father" just because he gave me life. I don't hate him, I don’t love him - I have no feelings for the man.

Above: My father and me in a pool, I was deathly afraid of the water, in 1975.

I think back on the very few men in my childhood and the two men that helped raise me were my grandfather (Pepe) and my stepfather. My grandfather died when I was 13 so I never really got to express my feelings towards him and thank him for believing in me as a child and showing me love. My stepfather, Ed, was a great father and even though I resented him when I was a young kid and a teenager, I realized several years ago that he was a great father and instilled many values in me including discipline, respect and morals.

Above: Me, my brother Nathan and my stepfather Ed in 1981.

Above: My Pepe and me in March of 1974.

It's interesting to see Zachary growing up with many different male figures in his life. He has his father, Paul, who is the best dad anyone could want. If I were a child again and I could choose a dad, I would want my dad to be Paul. The love I see between Zach and Paul is unlike any father and son bond I have seen and it really touches me to see them together, smiling, laughing and expressing their love for one another. I do have to say that I would have loved to have that bond with my dad, but seeing it with Paul and Zach has healed a lot of what I didn't have - just to see it and be a part of it has helped me in so many ways.

Above: Zach and Paul enjoying a good laugh.

Zach also has a "step-father" as well, Carrie's partner, Iggy. I really hope that Zach realizes what a great guy Iggy is and respects him as he gets older. I know what it's like to have a stepfather and grow up with someone taking the place of your dad - your very protective of your mom and you see the "step-father" as a threat and the "step-father" is the perfect person to take your anger out on when you realize that your parents are not together. It's a tough role to be in and the step-father is usually the bad guy no matter what they do. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20's that I realized that my stepfather was a great role model for me.

Above: Zach and Iggy rubbing noses while enjoying the refreshing pool.

Zach also has a wonderful grandfather who he calls Pops. Grandfathers are the best in my eyes. Zach will get enough discipline from Paul and Iggy but grandfathers are most often not the disciplinarians and more of the gift givers, the 'candy under the radar' guy and all around loving type of caregivers. I loved my grandfather probably more than anyone in my childhood. I really hope that Zach has all of his childhood and a large part of his adulthood to really get to know his grandfather as much as he can. I also hope he gets the artistic gene from Pops too! ☺

Above: Great photo! Zach and his Pops on vacation.

And then I guess I will include me. I spend a lot of my time with Zach, mostly observing and admiring him. I know I have expressed this before but never in my life did I ever think I would have a child in my day-to-day life. I didn't think it was in the cards for me, but I am proud to say I have known Zach since he was 10 months old. I will never forget the first time I saw him - he was just a baby. Paul was my neighbor in Boston and we had just started dating. We really connected on the fact that we both didn’t have our father’s in our lives and we turned out pretty damn well. I think the fact that we both didn’t have our fathers makes us very sensitive and attentive to Zachary’s needs.
Above: Paul and his dad in the mid-1970s.

Paul then told me he had a son who was just a baby. I was taken back by it and was not sure how to react, but after I met Zach for the first time and I looked into his eyes - I was hooked. I said to myself - this feels right and I would be honored to be a part of Zachary's life. Almost four years have past since I have known Zach and looking back on the time I have spent with him - it has been one of the most rewarding experience and life changing for me.

Above: Zach and me earlier this year at Dolores Park.

I sometimes look at Zach and wonder what he will be like when he's a grown man, what will he think of his upbringing, which is not the conventional 'Mom and Dad' upbringing, but it's an upbringing filled with love and a wide variety of people who I think are all truly amazing. I wonder if he will be close with everyone that touched his life and realize how lucky he is to have all these people that love him. I hope that I am around to see special milestones in his life, like - graduating from high school and college, going on his first date, his first car, getting married and having his own children. It might be too early to predict, but I bet Zach will be a great father and I hope he will look back at some of the amazing men that influenced him throughout his life and draw from those experiences.

Happy Father's Day!


Anonymous said...

That story is abosolutely Beautiful. You are all very luck to have one another.

Michelle Vogel said...

Hi Neil -

What a wonderfully touching Father's Day post!

I really enjoyed reading it and seeing the
selection of photos too.

Zach is a very lucky little boy to have so many
loving people in his life.

The love, care and attention that both you and Paul give Zach is to be applauded every single day.

Not just on Father's Day!

See, the dysfunctional family cycle CAN be
broken. Both you and Paul are proof of that.
I get so tired of people blaming their "bad childhood" on why they're so screwed up as adults.

Proud to call you my friend, Neil. I'm just sorry we don't live closer. Zach and Ryan would make great buddies :)


Menky said...

Thanks for the sweet comment Michelle!

I also wish we lived closer to one another, Zach and Ryan would get along great I am sure:-)

I also agree that the dysfunctional family cycle can be broken. I learned from the things in my past and turned the negatives into a positives.

You're a great friend Michelle, when I get to New York it will be great to connect:-)

Ryan Thomas said...

I loved this collection of pictures and thoughts about fatherhood and child growth. It is a great display of how unconventional means of growing up or raising a child don't necessarily equate to chaos.

Watching you and Paul with Zach is one of the most beautiful things to see and it makes me happy everytime I am lucky enough to witness it.

I am happy for the world that someone in its future is being raised by you two. The world needs more parents like you two out there!

Clint said...

I enjoyed your post very much, Neil. I was never close to my father, and he was killed in a freeway collision 30 years ago when I was in my mid-20's. At the time, I was living 2,000 miles away from him in San Francisco. Unfinished business, as they say. The father-son relationship is always fraught, especially for gay boys.

Being a great Dad has got to be an extremely difficult thing, especially for the restless. (I think of Bruce Springsteen's song Hungry Heart: "Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack. I went out for a ride and I never went back. Just like a river that don't know where it's flowing, I took a wrong turn and I just kept going.")

Bill and I have lived together for 11 years, but I've never met his Dad. Bill "came out" to him (and told him about us) a couple of years ago and his father hasn't communicated with him since. At this point I don't want to ever meet him. Is family life ever "functional" (as opposed to dysfunctional)?

Sorry if this is too downbeat,

All the best to you and Paul as fathers to Zach.
- Clint

South End said...

Neil - I have to say that post was quite moving. I hope this does not offend you, but that first picture of your father really shows a strong resemblance to you. Looks like you did get something from your dad, his good looks!

Menky said...

Ya know, I found that picture recently and I don't remember seeing that picture of my father and me. I have very few photos of us together and when I saw that picture I said to myself, "wow I really do see myself in that picture" - his face, high forehead, cheekbone etc...I never thought I looked much like my parents, but that picture made me realize I look a lot like my father. So no - I am not offended.

Menky said...

Ryan - you're very sweet. Thanks for the great comment and I am proud to have a great friend like you in my life.

Even though I do have to say I am not perfect around Zach, sometimes I slip and say things that are not appropriate.. Oh like the word "dump" in reference to having to go to the bathroom. Things you don't think he will remember but does:-) Oh the joy!

Menky said...

Clint -

I appreciate your post. It's very interesting the relationship between a father and their gay son, there usually isn't one. It's funny to see it on the flip side with Paul being gay and Zachary being "straight" - it will be interesting to see that dynamic in the future.

When I came out at 16, my father was not accepting to my lifestyle at all. He never reached out to me, never made any attempt to support me or make me feel he was on my side. His way of dealing with it was to ignore me.

I am sorry to hear that your father was killed and the relationship was left unsettled. I thought about that about 4-5 years ago and I mailed a letter to my father expressing how I felt and where I stood and really let loose on my feelings. I did get a nasty voicemail from him expressing his side of the story and him trying to defend himself.... it really was to late to open those wound but I felt I needed some closure on my end.

At any age, when coming out to your father has to be a tough thing and I am glad I have met both you and Bill - you're wonderful people. I am glad Bill had the courage to come out to his dad and the only person who's is missing out is Bill's dad. He really is missing out on getting to know who his son really is and his wonderful partner. Who knows, maybe his father will come around.

Carrie said...

What a wonderful post in so many ways. I love all of those pictures of Zach being loved. Michelle's comment about breaking the dysfunctional family cycle is so true. You both have made great decisions about how to live your lives. Paul's mother and brother-in-law Mike are owed a lot of credit too for turning what could have been a tough family life into a loving one.

TomZ said...

Loved this! Very heart-warming.

PJ said...

This really was a very special post for me to read on several levels. I'm certainly appreciative about the encouragement that I'm at least doing something right as a father :-)

It also caused me to reflect back on my own childhood and what shapes you at a young age. At one point, the most influential father figure in my life was a fun-loving police officer from my neighborhood named Rocky. I still remember him dressing up as Santa Claus every x-mas... and there's nothing better than an african-american Santa Claus bringing you toys at Christmas time! He used to go to all my little league games and he was super supportive of everything I did as a kid.

Anyway, love and support - that's what I'll always try to give to Zach. Seeing these pictures certainly makes me believe that he'll get a lot of both those things from all of these strong role models in his life. Good post, Menks!