You want to believe that you can do it without him. Screw it, you tell yourself. If he doesn’t want me, then it’s his loss. So you go on with life, growing up in a masculine society without a masculine role model to become a masculine male. You see mama working her hands to the bone or chasing those vials and take this in with, paradoxically, an air of detachment and responsibility.
By default, you are the man of the house and you will grow up as yet another product of a single parent household. In the midst of this and school and summer camp and sports leagues, you meet a boy by the name of Zettler. You remember his name not by any redeeming personality trait or specific athletic ability or even his style of dress.
You remember him by his name. The weirdest name you have come across. And by the presence of a male figure that shadows his every move on the sports field. The ubiquity of this man confounds you, after all, nobody else seems to have a guy around. The only men around here are coaches and park officials.
The cry of men not being around for their kids is as old as water. I have seen it through my peers and through media depictions. I express concern for this issue, deplore it, and even write columns to aggrandize its importance. But yours truly must confess something.
I am a fraud.
I know more about being without a father than a fish knows existence without water. Zettler Clay III was always around, making sure that young Clay knew how to stay above reproach when it came to school, have fun when it came to sports, and chew his food with his mouth closed. Simple lessons were not on deaf ears when it came from my mother, but coming from a quick-tempered, 6”4 black as molasses, endearing figure, the lesson was learned. The bond that my father and I have is quite unique, and growing up, the uniqueness was even more pronounced. With all due love and appreciation to moms, my dad was one of a counselor, best friend, and parent.
He gave me the freedom to roam in my teenage years, entrusting me to do the right thing. Perhaps it was because of his strict upbringing under Zettler Clay Jr., or out of pure intuition, but I was never restricted by a curfew of any kind. When teachers would come calling about sporadic behavioral issues, he would be stern, but not autocratic. When girls would come calling, he would give me the freedom to operate while offering the perils of promiscuity. He did lecture often – boy, does he know how to do that – and our relationship was not bereft of arguments and massive disagreements. What males don’t clash heads in the adolescent years? The amazing part about our relationship was the complicit forgiveness that was inherent; the ability to forgive each other without explicit acknowledgement. We just moved on without much sentimentality, but the appreciation and respect was always felt. There was no absence of love.
Mothers Day is regarded as the ultimate requisite, while Father’s Day is a token mention. I cannot relate to that indifference. To me, Father’s Day is a day of reflection, of everything a father can do for a child. To me, it is not pure imagination, a gaze into the wind of what could be or should have been. To me, it is a great day because I am not speaking as a theorist about the impact of a male figure, a father.
I am speaking from experience. I only pray that my kids will admire me half as much as I admire Zettler C. Clay III.
He did, and continues to do his job, but yet, men like him get lost into the discourse of absentee fathers. Happy Father’s Day to all the men around handling their responsibility wholeheartedly and with love.
You are our leaders, and our kids our lost without you. Nature abhors a vacuum. If you are not there, somebody else will take your place.