Monday, March 2, 2015

Here goes nothing...

While there's been a lot of progress made in the last few years advocating for the rights of fathers in regards to their children, there's still a long way to go to normalize them. And, unfortunately, there's an even longer way to go with addressing the emotional health of the fathers out there coping with the effective loss of their children. How they can cope with it in a healthy way, how to survive it, and how to become better people- and better dads- in the process. 
As men, we're often just expected to "tough it out", internalize it, ignore it- but that just doesn't work. It's throwing the rug over a mess and trying to forget about it; eventually, the mess will come back out, and always worse than it was to begin with. I know that's what I was told; my ex told me I should be just fine with going from having de facto primary custody of my daughter to 26 partial-weekends a year, because "It's a lot easier for men to be away from their kids, anyway". 
People would raise eyebrows at me, assuming I must have "done something wrong" for such a thing to have happened, and that wanting to spend more time with my daughter was more a function of "getting back" at her mother, or "just wanting to spend less in child support". Or remarked how lucky I was I only had to be a "part-time" dad, which gave me plenty of time to have lots of fun, right?
I'd like to say the idea for this project came to me in a brilliant flash of inspiration, a veritable light bulb above the head- but it didn't. There's no fancy story. It was a process years in the making, until it finally came to a head recently. My daughter turned seven; I turned thirty; and I realized how much I'd failed her. She can swim laps for an hour, but can't fully ride a bike. She knows the names of the constellations, but has never seen the night sky away from the city lights. She can explain photosynthesis to me, but has barely experienced any more nature than you find in a postage-stamp sized communal grassy area in an apartment complex.
And my story is far from the only one- on another side of the spectrum, for instance, I've got a friend who's going through similar struggles in a different way. He's trying to be a stepdad to a teenage daughter- in lots of ways, he's got it harder than I do/did. Struggling to gain respect in his role, to exert the fine balancing act between going too far and not far enough.
We could simply give up, and use the weight of the limited amount of time I'm able to spend with my daughter be the excuse for that, railing against the injustice for the rest of my life. It'd be easy to do- for me, I've got two jobs now, a wonderful wife and beautiful baby boy, volunteering, house work, all the things that conspire to suck up all of one's free time. But even not having those things, even when I was still a single dad with a (relative) excess of free time, it can be tempting to just give up- the way dads are often marginalized and rendered powerless, with how the child custody system is set up, it's easy to simply throw your hands up in the air and say, "I give up". Being a "Disneyland Dad" is a hell of a lot easier than being just "Dad".
But that's not what my daughter needs; it's not what any kid needs. Kids need an engaged and positive role-model. Someone who won't wilt in the face for adversity. Kids need dads. 
So instead of taking the easy route and just accepting that, my friend and I decided to take our girls, this summer, to one of the jewels of our country- one or more of our national parks. That's something every American citizen should do, in my opinion- a rare bit of unspoiled wilderness, amazing sights that you can't see anywhere else in the world.
It's a big undertaking; we're not experienced woodsman or people who can rappel naked down the side of El Capitan, or be dropped into the Sahara desert with a bowie knife and some fishing line and come out wearing North Face fleeces knitted from poison ivy, and cargo pants made from reptile skin. People like Bear Grylls or Wes Seiler, who can do that sort-of thing in their sleep. But for most people, even a cursory visit to a national park can sound like a great idea, until you realize you have no idea what you're doing, and the enormity of what you want to undertake hits you! 
To compound this, a lot of the wilderness, camping, and survival blogs are filled with preppers planning for the revolution, or reviews of equipment more at home at Base Camp on Mount Everest. Yeah, it's cool to read, but it's like watching the folks on Top Gear discuss driving a Bugatti Veyron. It's nothing I'm ever going to experience myself. It doesn't help 
As I was discussing this plan with my friend, and he was talking about his struggles as well, I though, wow- that'd be an incredible thing to share with other people, other dads- our personal journey of fatherhood, and the trials of two normal dads planning and executing this trip for our kids and ourselves. A resource for other dads, something I wish I would have had in the same circumstances.
And so that's what we're going to do. This one's for all the dads out there who know there's no such thing as a part time dad.

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