“‘Father’ is the noblest title a man can be given. It is more than a biological role. It signifies a patriarch, a leader, an exemplar, a confidant, a teacher, a hero, a friend.” – Robert L. Backman
As a 55-year-old single man, I think you can safely say I’m more than a bit socially awkward.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t laugh, cry, hurt, heal, long and love just as passionately as “the next guy.”
In fact, I may do all of these things at a level that’s more than a bit uncommon.
And so, on several occasions a year — most specifically Valentine’s Day and Father’s Day — I’m left to reflect on what I’ve missed through the years…and what I’ll miss in the future…by not being a husband or father.
That reflection, lately, has led me to what I now like to think of as my “reality,” and it’s something I hope holds some degree of truth….and is not just a rationalization designed to get me through the days, weeks, months and years which lie ahead.
I think I knew, early on in my college years, that having a long-term relationship — one that ended in marriage — was going to be a chore. And by the time I was three or four years into my teaching and coaching career, I was pretty darn sure I was going to be single for life.
I just had NO IDEA as to where to start a relationship, no clue as to how to spark that “special something” in someone else…and have it last.
But I was fairly certain, however, that at least one thing I wanted — the chance to be the leader, confidant, hero and friend spoken to in the quote that opens this piece — was something I could achieve through teaching and coaching.
And for 18 years, I hope I did just that for what I’ve got to believe were hundreds of young people in a pair of special communities. It’s why I dove headlong into teaching and coaching, into establishing relationships with my students and athletes that were “beyond the norm.”
But it’s also partly the reason that I never seemed to completely “connect” with those closest to me: my blood family. Yup, when it came to truly loving and caring relationships, I seemed destined to be awkward for life.
That’s when my teaching career came to a screeching halt, and I found myself searching…searching for who I was, who I wanted to be, and how I was going to get there.
It’s taken me well into my 50s, but I think I’m finally the son, brother, nephew, uncle and cousin my family deserves. I only wish my grandparents — particularly my Grandmother and Granddad Waeckerle — could have been here to receive some of that love in the way they gave it to me.
But it was the way that Granddad Waeckerle, and my dad, “found their emotional, loving footing” later in their lives that gave me hopes of a similar turnaround.
It was a decision in mid 2014, however — just less than four years AFTER leaving teaching and coaching — that gave me the opportunity to open myself up, make myself vulnerable, and hopefully keep other men from making some of the same mistakes I made through the first 50 years of my life.
That decision, to return to involvement in my fraternity — Delta Sigma Phi — was the single most-important thing I’ve done in my adult life.
Why? Because when I “came back” to Delta Sig, I did so determined to make a REAL, palpable difference in the lives of those men who touched my heart…and allowed me close enough to touch theirs.
I can’t tell you how important it was, is, and will continue to be that three young men — in particular — have allowed me to be so involved in their lives. And though I know DJ Bartels, Hunter Post and Trayton Post have probably REALLY regretted opening their hearts to me on MORE than just a few occasions, each of them has given me the chance to be a confidant and friend.
And I can’t tell you what that means to me. Words just don’t do it justice. So I continue to pour out my heart, to those three men in particular, and hope that some of it…any of it…makes a true difference.
Their REAL dads — two remarkable men named Dan Bartels and Mark Post — have allowed a peer (me) to take a huge role in the lives of their sons, and have done so seemingly unblinkingly. I can’t tell you what that means. Again, words just don’t do it justice.
And though DJ, Hunter and Trayton hold the largest segments of my heart, they’re by no means alone. Young men named Stephen, Colby, Ryan, Mario, Neal, Chaz, Noah, Avery and others have allowed me “in,” letting me be part of their lives, letting me share in some of the emotion that keeps me sane and keeps me thriving.
Heck, even Taryn and Ashley — the Post and Bartels SISTERS — have let this old man in…if only for a few fleeting minutes at a time.
Sure, the new way I’m choosing to live my life leaves some more than a bit confused. They ONLY see the “socially awkward thing,” and don’t take the time to see the respect, caring and love that comes along with it…if time and trust are allowed to build.
But, like the best of those friendships I built in my days as a Delta Sig undergrad — with men named Randy, Brad, Rob, Dan, Jeff, Jack, Keith, Kent, Dave, Chad and Chuck — they’re relationships built to stand the test of time.
And they join those I gained through my years as a coach, with such tremendous men as Matt, Justin, Joey, Chris, John, Tito, Brandon, Ben, Michael, Tyler, Collin and Ryan.
So, really, when all is said and done, maybe I haven’t fared too badly for someone who came out of the womb with “two left feet” when it came to the social graces.
But, if those young people — who will eventually become men who will lead their communities, if they’re not already doing so — will just allow me to have just a piece of their hearts, I might just be able to craft my own definition of “father.”
And maybe, just maybe, its a definition that won’t leave my heart hurting on Father’s Day, longing for something I’ve never had.
Maybe, just maybe, my own version of being a confidant and friend CAN be good enough.
My prayers, and a significant segment of my heart, damn sure hope so.