KidsTheseDays.org is pleased to welcome our newest guest blogger to the site: Chris Paoli. You heard him last week reading an original essay on Show 21: Dads These Days. Once a week Chris will consider the dynamics of being a dynamic man of the house - dad to his children, David, Joseph and Isabella, and husband to his wife, Jorie. For the first post, and by way of introduction, he answers the question posed by the Good Men Project: What was your defining daddy moment?
My defining “Daddy Moment”
As a U.S. Marine, my father was hit with shrapnel in both arms when the Viet Cong mortared a C-130 he was unloading in Viet Nam. Once a contender for the Olympic Boxing team, he lost much of the use of his arms. It wasn’t until many reconstructive surgeries later that he was able to have some semblance of normal use.
My father met my mother at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, California where she was stationed as a Coast Guard nurse. They fell in love, ran off to Vegas to get married, created me, then moved back to our family’s farm in Upper Michigan. Over the next six months, fear got the best of my father. He didn’t know what to do for work, or how he would support his new family, and in the ‘70’s, being a Stay-at-Home-Dad wasn’t really an option. So my father did what many guys do when fear gets the best of them. He ran like hell, not because he was a worthless bastard, but because he had lost his self-confidence and the enormity of the situation seemed too great to bear. Still, he ran from the people he loved and he ran from himself. I resented him my whole life for abandoning me.
After an annulment, my mother married the man I call “Dad”. He adopted me and my last name became “Paoli”. Though I knew my Dad wasn’t my biological father, I wasn’t allowed to talk about my father, ask questions, or even mention his name.
Throughout my childhood and teens, I resented my Dad for not living up to my expectations of what I wanted and needed from him. Neither my father, nor my Dad taught me what it meant to be a Man, let alone a good father. So, I left home and joined the Army right after High School graduation. I thought I could figure things out for myself. Besides, I wanted to test myself, and prove that I was “tough”.
I was sent to Bosnia where I spent nine long months questioning myself, learning difficult life-lessons. In the Army, I found the opposite examples of manliness: drinking, the pursuit of women (regardless of marriage status), and aggression. Fortunately, I had been raised Catholic in the Roman Rite, and sought solace in my faith, scripture, and in talking with priests, and other “good” men I was fortunate to come across.
After stumbling over myself for several years, I eventually pieced together my ideal of what makes a good Man and father. However, it wasn’t until I met Jorie, the woman who is now my wife, that my true sense of manliness and fatherhood solidified within me. During our time together I came to appreciate my own Dad by essentially stepping into his shoes. Jorie left David’s biological father for safety reasons when David was 1 year old, and his father eventually moved out of state. By the time we began dating, David was two and a half years old. I knew how it felt to be in David’s situation, because I was in his situation for most of my life. I knew that if anyone understood what this boy needed, it was me. I knew that I could help guide him along a very difficult path, but I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be.
After years of phone calls and healing conversations with my own father, I have come to know that God’s grace can turn bitter men into truly good men. Because of this, I have held the belief that David deserves the right to make up his own mind about his father without my own judgments or ideas skewing his perceptions. It is my hope (and prayer) that over time, David’s father will also become a good man, for David’s sake.
David is 7 now, and I have been his “Daddy” for almost 5 years. Our relationship has been good, but also extremely difficult at times. Negotiating the delicate balance of fun, discipline, love, and direction has been a true challenge. More than anything else though, the dynamics of our relationship has helped me understand and come to terms with the relationship I have with my own Dad. I’ve come to understand the obstacles my Dad faced with my mother, also as the parent of an adopted son. I began to empathize with my Dad, and in that empathy I found love and forgiveness.
Today, I am grateful for the Man that stepped up to be my Dad. At times I know he wanted to quit, but he didn’t. I’m thankful that we now have a good relationship. Perhaps his reward may be that his grandchildren fill his heart with goodness and love beyond measure.
Nearly four years after I met David, Jorie gave birth to our son Joseph. I was there with her every step of the way. I wanted to do better than my father did with me. I went to prenatal appointments and ultrasounds. I made sure she took her vitamins, and when it was time to go to the hospital, I was ready. We made arrangements with our Nurse-Midwife for me to help deliver our son Joseph and when it was time for Jorie to “pitch”, I was there to catch. I had Joseph’s head in my hands, and I brought him up to Jorie’s breast. When I cut Joseph’s umbilical cord it was a huge accomplishment for me. I felt like a champion Dad. I didn’t pass out like the nurses thought I would, and holding my little smurf-blue son didn’t phase me one bit. I was there for all of it, conception through birth.
Like many newly knighted fathers, I contemplated the journey my own life has taken as I held my son. I realized that my life had come full-circle. I had kept many promises to myself; that I would be there for my son’s birth, and that I would never leave him, or let him feel alone. I would teach him everything I could and love him for as long as I could breathe. And, no man would ever take my place.
My “Daddy Moment” was not a specific moment in time. It was a gradual revelation that happened sometime after my son was born and I finally realized that I had made peace with my father, my Dad, and most importantly, myself. Through God’s Grace, I came to realize the men I felt had let me down the most, eventually helped me to become the good man, and father I am today.