What Makes a Father?

When it comes to fathers, I must paraphrase a quote from Dickens. “It’s the best of times and the worst of times.” Never have fathers been more willing to take on parenting chores, especially those pertaining to babies and young children.

It’s not unusual to see a dad enter a store with an infant strapped to his chest and a toddler’s hand grasped to each his own. You’ll find fathers taking their children to school or to the doctor’s more often than in the past. There are even some men who opt to stay home with the kids while their wives go off to work.

I’m not sure modern fathers are as sensitive as Jim Anderson of “Father Knows Best” or as wise as Ward Cleaver of “Leave It to Beaver,” but many do try harder. They’re the responsible ones, putting their families first. They’re as comfortable changing a baby’s diaper as changing oil in the car. They’re sure of their manhood and have nothing to prove. Blessed are the children of responsible fathers.

Then there are fathers who are as responsible as a jackrabbit and nearly as prolific. They either reject marriage altogether or view it as a temporary arrangement to run from or fall into as they will. They slip in and out of relationships as casually as one might leave a boring movie. Pity the children of such fathers.

Who knows how many problems are caused by absent or cruel fathers? They must leave gaping wounds in the children’s personalities. Boys who don’t have fathers as their primary role models look elsewhere, be it sports heroes or gang leaders. Girls without fathers have no yardstick by which to measure a man’s character, so they gravitate to men who are as irresponsible as their fathers were.

When I think of the best and worst of fathers, I think of Ben Lucas and Craig Moon. I didn’t know either of these men personally, but one possessed all the qualities of a responsible, caring father, though he’d never sired a child, and the other I wouldn’t want to meet in my worst nightmare.

Kelly Moon had married Craig straight out of high school–had to, Jamie was born three months later. At first she thought it would work. Then Craig started shaking and striking the baby. When she intervened, he turned his rage on her. Kelly and little Jamie suffered years of abuse that got progressively worse. When Jamie was six, both she and Craig were arrested for child abuse, an event that prompted her to take action at last.

The next year Kelly mustered enough nerve to leave with Jamie. She divorced Craig, but couldn’t get rid of him. Incredibly, though he’d been arrested twice for child abuse, he was given visitation rights.

Then Kelly met Ben. He was as warm as sunshine after years of cold, dark despair. They fell in love and Ben included little Jamie in his love, though the child wasn’t very loveable. At eight, Jamie was aloof and sullen. He’d experienced every kind of abuse, been shoved against walls, slugged in the face, burned with cigarettes, and tied with ropes. Naturally, he distrusted all men.

But Ben was patient and slowly drew the boy out of his shell. He took him camping, fishing, taught him to pay ball. Did all the guy things Jamie had only envied other boys enjoying in the past.

Ben wanted to marry Kelly, but she stalled. She feared Craig’s reaction, so she delayed marriage plans and prayed her former husband would find another woman and leave her alone.

He never did, but Kelly and Ben finally set a date. She called Craig to give him the news lest he hear it from someone else. She didn’t like his reaction, and her intuition told her there’d be a confrontation. This concerned her so much she sent Jamie to spend the night with Ben.

She wasn’t wrong. As she frantically called 911, Craig broke in. The police found them both shot to death. Just another murder/suicide to the world, but devastating to Ben and Jamie.

Distraught with his own grief, Ben had to tell Jamie his mother was gone. Jamie’s reaction worried him. The boy didn’t cry, said nothing and moved about like a zombie all during the terrible days that followed.

The night after the funeral, Ben pulled the little boy aside. “I know you’re hurting, Jamie. Don’t you want to talk about it?”

Jamie didn’t look up, but Ben noticed a tear drop from the child’s cheek onto his hand. “What’s gonna happen to me?” Jamie asked.

It was a question Ben had been working on. None of Jamie’s relatives were fit to care for him. Ben had already conferred with his attorney. He took the weeping child on his lap. “When your mom and I planned to get married, we decided I would adopt you. I’m still trying to do that. I’ve lost my wife. I’m not going to lose my son.”

Jamie relaxed. “Mom said when you and her got married, I could call you Dad. After you ‘dopt me, can I still call you Dad?”

Ben hugged the boy, letting his own tears flow. During the next minutes, man and boy bonded irrevocably as father and son.

When I wrote this many years ago, I had no idea our own family would be impacted. My son-in-low committed suicide over a year ago and now his children’s grandfather, my husband, fills the void as best he can. This story is dedicated to all those who are fathers in deed instead of by blood, the ones who care for the fatherless. God bless them all.

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