“Does Antonio Have A Dad?”

Antonio and Crystel - seven months old

Antonio and Crystel – seven months old

“Does Antonio have a dad?” the five-year old boy holding Antonio’s hand asked me. I glanced down at him, and then looked at my son. He eyed me as if he was waiting for an answer, too.

I imagined Antonio’s friend asking him on the return bus to school from the spring field trip to the apple orchard. Maybe he asked him during the hay ride, while we bounced over ruts and down the dusty lane that left a cloud in our wake.

Aunt Amie and Antonio

Aunt Amie and Antonio

Perhaps he knew better than the other children that the two women in the family picture taped to the kindergarten wall were not the same woman but two moms. Earlier, I had one child in his classroom attempt to convince me that I was the same person.

“It’s not me,” I said. “That other woman is a different person.”

But how do you argue with a five-year old who isn’t your own child and can’t conceive of anything but a mom and a dad in a household?

 

Aunt Kathy, Crystel, Aunt Pat, Antonio, Uncle Marty

Aunt Kathy, Crystel, Aunt Pat, Antonio, Uncle Marty

I think he won the argument.

I imagined Antonio shrugging his small shoulders in response to his friend’s question. Did he look away from his pal and stare at the dust hanging in the air or at the apples ready to be picked?

I hope not.

Maybe the boy took it upon himself and said to Antonio, “I’ll find out for you.”

Aunt Cara and Antonio

Aunt Cara and Antonio

While I was forming my answer, I thought about his classmate who sat next to me on the way home. His mom was dead, he said. After saying that I was sorry, I wondered about the children who called Antonio their friend. Maybe it was because of his very difference — being adopted and having two moms — that they thought that they too would be accepted.

 

Tia Anna, Antonio, Tio Scott

Tia Anna, Antonio, Tio Scott

The two kindergarteners expected an answer from me. This was a yes or no question.

Yet, how to answer? Though Antonio will most likely never meet his dad, does that mean that he doesn’t have a dad? Does that mean we will never celebrate Father’s Day?

 

Aunt Pat, Antonio, Aunt Mary, Crystel

Aunt Pat, Antonio, Aunt Mary, Crystel

Jody and I had prepared for this very moment — this question — and created a village of chosen aunts and uncles who would stand in for the missing people in Antonio’s and Crystel’s life. This village was formed before they even came home.

So I said what any mom would, “Of course, silly. Everyone HAS a Mom and a Dad. You HAVE to have a mom and dad to be born.”

Uncle Marty

Uncle Marty

I poked Antonio. “He feels real to me.”

Antonio smiled. That was good enough for him.

These chosen aunts and uncles have accepted their roles seriously. That was part of the deal — to have play dates with the children regularly, as well as show up for birthdays, dances, pinewood derbies, and holidays.

We’ve never asked them to fill the ‘dad’s’ role. Though when Antonio was much younger, I woke one night in a panic, and at the first opportunity I asked Scott and Marty to take Antonio into public bathrooms to show him what a urinal was and to tell him NOT to touch the urinal cake.

Crystel, Sam (babysitter), Antonio, Charlie (babysitter)
Crystel, Sam (babysitter), Antonio, Charlie (babysitter)

I have asked Antonio on occasion if he would like me to ask one of his uncles to accompany him on a Scout trip (and take my place) but he’s always declined. Darn.

Even after the babies came home, Jody and I continued to intentionally bring males into their life. Charlie and then his brother Sam were their fulltime nannies until each boy graduated from highschool.

Charlie, Antonio, Crystel

Charlie, Antonio, Crystel

I believe that all of the above people have brought so much love into Antonio and Crystel’s lives that they may really need to search for what’s missing when asked the question, Do you have a dad?

 

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Lessons from a Life

This week, guest blogger and WordSister Brenda van Dyck continues our meditation on fatherhood.

Finally it happened. Father’s Day came and went, and instead of feeling sad, I was grateful. Every June in the eight years since my father died, I have met Father’s Day with dread; the day was an annual reminder of what I no longer had. But this year, I found myself thinking more of my five-year-old daughter and what my dad can still teach her.

My daughter, Shelby, was born three years after my dad died. He was 41 when I was born; I was 41 when I gave birth to my daughter. I think that’s as far as the similarities go. For him, I was the fourth child to come in the four-and-a-half years since my oldest sister was born (yes, that’s right, four kids in four-and-a-half years). For me, the birth of my only child was a much sought-after and anticipated event.

Brenda and Shelby

Brenda and Shelby

In the months after Shelby was born, I mourned the fact that she wouldn’t grow up with my dad around. He was grandfather to nine others before her, and in many ways, he was a better grandfather than father; without the responsibility of having to provide for his grandchildren, he was more relaxed, more playful, and more able to enjoy them without worry. She wouldn’t experience his sense of humor, gentle teasing, or steady presence.

Despite his absence, he can still teach her things.

My father was stubbornly stoic—a man of few words and even fewer expressions of emotion. He wasn’t one to give advice. But he taught me a lifetime’s worth of values, not from what he said, but from how he lived.

Here is what I think he would say to her.

Work hard and you will overcome your struggles. There is always value in working hard. My father only had a primary school education; he grew up in a village in Yugoslavia where more schooling than the basic Catholic primary school was a luxury that few families could afford. When he was 14, my father moved to Munich during World War II to become a baker’s apprentice. In the long trajectory of his life, he would live through the war, immigrate to another country, learn how to fix mainframe computers, and retire from a steady career working for Control Data. He made the American Dream his own.

You are not a victim of your circumstances. Despite what you witness, despite what you live through, know that you will live through it. My father didn’t like to talk about growing up poor or living through the war. He didn’t say much about his father, who died when my dad was 16. There was certainly a lot of pain in his life. And while he was not given to emotion or affection, the hard times of his life shaped him into a man who was strong and quietly compassionate.

Four kids in four-and-a-half years

Four kids in four-and-a-half years

Family is the glue that will keep you together. Family will help you keep perspective on what’s really important. My father’s immediate family, consisting of my dad’s parents, three brothers and two sisters, was broken up by poverty and war. After my father was about 12, the family never lived together again because of various circumstances. But when my father came to the United States, joining an aunt and uncle and their children in a small house in the east side of St. Paul, he finally experienced the family life he had longed for. It gave him the semblance of a normal life at last. He would go on to meet my mother and raise four children in a very conventional and blessedly uneventful way. And they created a solid footing for the next generation to come.

Don’t be a phony. If you are overly concerned with what people think of you rather than being a good person, you’ve got it wrong. My dad could always spot a phony, and he wasn’t shy about showing his disdain for those who spent more time trying to appear to be hot stuff rather than being authentic. He wasn’t impressed by wealth, and was even turned off by it, but he was more impressed with authenticity, kindness, and respect.

Parents love you the best way they know how and they aren’t perfect. They will disappoint you, hurt your feelings, and even fail you. Learn to forgive them for their shortcomings, because it will make you who you are. There are many things I wish my father had done differently. I wish he’d been more communicative and more nurturing for starters, but I know that he did the best he could. And what he did do in providing a stable home, was pretty darn good.

Be responsible and dependable. Do what you say you’re going to do and be the kind of person that people can count on. My father was reliably on time. If he said he would do something, he always followed through. I hope that I have inherited that quality from him.

Lastly and maybe most importantly, leave those around you better than when you found them. Through your love, your gifts, and your efforts, make this world better. Do right by your family and friends and the rewards will come back to you. This, in essence, was my dad’s life. It’s what he did for me, and it’s what he has enabled me to do for my daughter.

Brenda van Dyck is a writer and editor who lives in Minneapolis with her family. She writes memoir and essays, bolstered by her WordSisters since first joining the writing group ten years ago.

The Fire Chief’s Daughter

By Rosemary Davis

By Rosemary Davis

Has never pulled a man from a burning car after fishing on Lake Erie all day and then driven home and cleaned the perch.

Can’t think of the 1967 race riots in Toledo without being grateful that the chief wasn’t hurt, although his white fire coat made him a target.

Would hear his voice on the fire radio and picture him speeding away from No. 5’s fire station whenever there was a two-alarm fire.

Learned from the chief to quiet her voice in a crisis, because it helped her and the patients in ER calm down.

Wouldn’t let her teenage boys play with a potato gun fueled by hairspray, because she and the chief had both seen the burns that result when hairspray ignites.

Looks for exit signs in case of fire, never overloads electrical circuits, and is careful with the candles she burns at home.

Thinks of the years of volunteer work, the anonymous donations, and the scholarship he endowed.

Hopes to live up to his example.