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The Meaning Of Being A Dad

By John McIntyre

John McIntyre [ Name Changed ] twells the story of his fatherhood from birth to coming to grips with being an “access dad”.

In 1988 my (now ex) wife and I found out she was pregnant with our first child. We were in the USA, and I was in the final year of a college degree. News of the pregnancy filled me with excitement. And fear. Mostly fear.

For practical reasons, we sought to determine the sex of the baby. When we discovered it was a boy, some other things started happening in my mind. I had secretly hoped for a girl for (I know now) two reasons.

First, I naively thought that, as a man I could be less involved as a father (because, as everyone knew then, girls don’t really need a dad as much as a mum), thereby leaving my fears about parenthood untouched.

Second, and closely related, deep down I knew that, because I had had no relationship with my own father – an emotionally distant man who separated from my mother when I was nine – I was not equipped to be the father of a boy.

I had, however, been slowly adopting the belief that everything happens for a reason, and believing that God had given us a boy for a reason, my wife agreed to give our son a name that in Hebrew means “gift of God.” I believed that we had been given a son, as opposed to a daughter to bring me to a place where I had to address my own father/son issues.

Which I did, but as most men are aware, such a process can be long, involved, and very difficult.
When we arrived back in New Zealand in 1991, my dad met us at the airport.

I had by that time resolved to restore the very damaged relationship between my father and me, and for a brief few moments, three generations of males in my family shared a bond that none of us really understood.

Of course, building on that bond and understanding it, would take time. Luckily, my father was only 59, so I looked forward to spending the next several years introducing both his son and his grandson to my father and learning the significance of each of those titles.

Four months later, my dad was dead. I have only one photo of my father with my son. Taken that day at Auckland Airport.

I soon discovered that I had more issues to deal with and questions than just those surrounding my relationship, or lack of, with my father.

In 1993, when our second son was born, the search for solutions to the issues and answers to the questions had driven an irreparable wedge between my wife and me, and when our son was three months old, my wife chose to separate from me – a decision, in hindsight, she was fully justified in making. She took the boys with her, a situation I merely took for granted as typical and appropriate.

On the day she moved out of our (rented) house, I ordered pizza, bought a six pack of beer and sat in the practically empty house and watched TV, relishing my recaptured singleness. The full impact of what had happened had not hit me. In fact, it was several years before it did.

What did hit me shortly after the separation, was the feeling of how completely artificial the whole idea of .access” was.

By artificial I mean two things. First, the whole picking the boys up and dropping them off hassle, especially an infant with bottles and nappies and naps and rented car seat and pacifiers (dummies) and toys, just seemed so complicated. And temporary. But second, it all seemed artificial in the sense that deep down, it just felt wrong.

Fatherhood was supposed to bring challenges, but not these kind. These were not the complications of fatherhood; they were the complications of adult politics. And the boys were the casualties.

My access arrangements evolved. Initially, my ex-wife wanted to restrict them; then for no apparent reason, she wanted to expand them. Our court appointed counsellor was of no practical value. She seemed little more than a rubber stamp for my ex-wife’s wishes.

Of course, I had little inclination, or even knowledge of how, to stand up for my rights. I didn’t know I had rights. What was best for the boys seemed secondary to what my ex-wife wanted.

I floundered for three years, trying to understand what being a father and a non-custodial, “weekend” father was all about. Friends helped, but I felt very alone. I didn’t know any other single fathers. I was not involved in decisions about my sons’ schooling, or their daily lives.

I was rarely allowed to talk to the boys on the phone. I could not see the boys outside my agreed access time. My one brush with a threatened trespass order came when I delivered my sons’ reading folder to the door of their house instead of leaving it in the letterbox as commanded.

Admittedly, compared to many men, I have been quite lucky as far as lawyers and the family court is concerned, in that I have not had experiences of either.

In the last two years, several things have come together. There has been a definite thaw in my ex-wife’s attitude. She realised (better late than never) that the boys “need their father in their life more.” Consequently I now have quite liberal and flexible access to them.

I have managed to answer some important questions about myself – who I am, at least at the present time; what I want. I have begun to understand, a little more, what it means to be both a man and a father. Long way to go.

But as much as this present situation allows, I am finally enjoying being both.

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