Unfit Father

Published on March 3rd, 2016 | by Richard Black


All Growed Up


That’s me. All grown up with a shotgun. Off to put down Old Yeller and maybe hunt a few chitlins.

This past Sunday I nursed a massive hangover and “watched” the Disney Channel with my daughter and it was lovely. Actually it wasn’t. Not even a little bit.

I spent the bulk of the time trying to take a nap in fifteen minute increments between commercials at which point Darcy would either scream about how much she REALLY WANTED THE LA LA LOOPSEY DOLL THAT WASN’T CREEPY!!! or begin jumping up and down on my ample midsection.

It was around the third or fourth time I came to a nauseated and painful consciousness that I arrived at a few conclusions. The first was that the older one gets the more a hangover feels like a really bad case of the flu.

The second was that I needed to record a few movies sans commercials for my daughter the next time HBO and Showtime give me a free preview.

The third conclusion I managed to arrive at was that the older I get the more difficult it is to maintain one’s train of thought. Then again that may have been the hangover. I don’t usually drink to excess but when I do I generally feel like I’ve mainlined concrete directly into my head, swallowed a pissed off feral cat and decided to lick a few used cars along the way to bed before exploring the floor of a public restroom with my tongue.

My final conclusion occurred a few moments after Darcy trampolined off my stomach for the second time. My vision immediately starred. I gagged and heaved and watched her giggle at my reaction before giving a labored chuckle, bemoaning my plight, and then pondering the fact that I thought I’d be more mature than this when I was over 40.

The Disney Channel’s overt thirty second plugs for the Disney Channel and went on with the the same sorts of advertisements albeit in longer form and under the guise of entertainment. Darcy calmed down for another fifteen minutes and I arrived at the startling conclusion (and relief that only a massive hangover can provide) that I’d been waiting for the better part of four decades to feel like an adult.

It’s a problem I believe that most white people face. We don’t have many other issues to suffer through these days and in lieu of battling social injustice it’s nice to have something to complain about. I’ve always thought that agnostic white people in the US should have some sort of ritual, like a bat or bar mitzvah, to announce one’s transition into manhood. There’d be a small gathering, maybe a DJ. I’d read a few lines from something by Robert Frost, break out some whippets, eat some rice crispy treats and then, bam, I’d be a man. Bring on the bitches.

Unfortunately no such ritual exists and I’m still riddled with ambivalence and doubt regarding my status as an ostensible adult. I could blame myself but, like most members of Generation X, I should probably blame my father.


My old man. Who wouldn’t love this guy?

My old man was always stoic and decisive. We had our trials as most sons and fathers do but I’m hard-pressed to  think of a time in which he showed even the smallest measure of self doubt or viewed the worst of situations with nothing other than optimism. “Take where you are, with what you have, and make the most of it,” was a quote from Lincoln of which he was quite fond. He was, in short, a hard act to follow.

As a boy I thought feeling “grown up” had something to do with coming out of puberty alive and, to be fair, part of it does. Adulthood in a purely physical sense requires sexual maturity but I’ve never been certain the process is worth the result.

Body odor, an ability to sweat profusely around members of the opposite sex and a schizophrenic organ that pops up whenever the wind blows seems like a poor tradeoff for the ability to breed particularly when the side effects include premature balding, the rigors of employment and a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, STDs, shame, self loathing…well you get the idea.

I’ve passed a bunch of mile stones in my life some arbitrary and some not so much: puberty, turning fifteen and getting a job, being fired from that job a few months later, graduating from college, getting my first “real job” losing that one as well, turning twenty five, losing my virginity, losing my figure, losing my hair, losing my will to live…where was I again?

There have only been three times in over forty years when I’ve felt as if I might, just might, have made my way to adulthood. The first was a job I picked up halfway through college during one of the hottest summers on record. Turnover was about 30%, the heat index often topped 110 degrees and I saw two people pass out from heat stroke.


The average condition of the soil during the time of my first landscaping job.

It was the most physically demanding job I have ever held. I almost quit. My second day in I hauled five tons of gravel with a wheelbarrow down a fifty foot slope before raking it out and then sweeping up the remainder. By the time five in the afternoon rolled around I could barely stand on my feet and my arms and legs trembled from exhaustion. I almost didn’t come back. Instead I showed up at five the next morning, stuck it out for the rest of the summer, lost twenty pounds, learned how to build retaining walls, plant trees, strip sod by hand and that I had the strength to do a job that most people couldn’t or weren’t willing to do.

The second time I teetered upon the edge of adulthood was the day I married my wife Laura. She is a woman of such intelligence, grace, and kindness that I’m still stunned to find myself with her to this day. It’s a conundrum really. I have no idea how I landed Laura but I suspect it has something to do with her terrible taste in men.

Our marriage over ten years ago was one of the highlights of my life. We didn’t know quite what was in store for us. The death of her father occurred a few years afterward, my sister’s bipolar disorder would become more and more aggressive and our difficulty in conceiving a child were just a few of the difficulties we would face. Despite our naiveté we knew that we were making a commitment to each other for life. We were in this, for better or worse, for the long haul. It is a vow that has made me a better and more considerate person.

More recently I passed a new milestone and a little over five years ago I held my daughter Darcy in my arms for the first time. I’d just come off of a year prompted by my most recent layoff and found myself somewhat suddenly, but not unexpectedly, to be a new stay at home dad. I’d always known I was going to be a stay at home parent. Laura’s income has always been larger than mine and we both wanted one of us to take some time off and raise our child.


It’s when I held my daughter, this daughter, for the first time that I bonded with Darcy. That’s her right there. Eyeing that damn rattle though.

Holding Darcy for the first time brought home the enormity of the task that lay before me but even more than responsibility I was overcome with love for this squalling and tender thing I held in my arms. Within seconds I was smitten and knew that I was hers and that she was mine. I knew at that moment that I would do everything in my power to raise a happy, healthy and confident child.

I’ve failed of course. I’ve failed many times but I’ve also never given up. When she was an infant there were times I forgot to change Darcy or missed a feeding. As my daughter grew older her life as well as my own became more complex and my failings have become too numerous too note. At my best I stood up, dusted myself off and attempted to garner some knowledge from the event. At my worst I cursed myself and plodded on.

Suffice it to say that as parents and spouses we all fail from time to time and anyone who claims otherwise is lying or trying to sell you a used car. The measure of a man or woman or really anyone isn’t simply in one particular event but in the totality of our actions particularly when the chips are down.

It’s the tough times that test our mettle and patience and generosity that remind us that adulthood isn’t an end goal but an ongoing process. There is no ritual or singular moment in time for most of us that signal our transition into “adulthood” or whatever that term has come to mean. I think I’d do well to remember that.

I think we all would.

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6 Responses to All Growed Up

  1. Pingback: Fatherhood on Friday: Embracing the Fatherlode

  2. nealcall says:

    Adulthood is a distant land that I hear people speak of in hushed tones, an otherworldy land which possibly sank into the ocean’s depths in a time long past, leaving only a vague sense of unease that we should have found it by now if it truly existed . . . but maybe it DID exist once, and we might find it by diving down deep and plumbing the depths of man’s watery experience, seeing the detritus and treasures of civilizations, jumbled together in the sand and buried under leagues of time and trivialities and water. We can’t live there. But with the right equipment and foresight we can visit for a period and think about things bigger and older and more mysterious than we are, before surfacing through the mundane shallows for a breath.

  3. nealcall says:

    Also, metaphors. I do them, to everyone’s great chagrin. Really appreciated this piece.

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