77: Dear Daddy

77: Dear Daddy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Dear Daddy

The trouble with learning to parent on the job is that your child is the teacher.

~Robert Brault, rbrault.blogspot.com

“Dear Daddy,

I really don’t have a lot to say. You really never yell at me or anything. I am mad that you are always gone on the weekends. When you would go out on the weekends, it would make me sad and mad because you and mommy would leave me home alone and have me take care of the dogs. Sometimes I would stay up till like one in the morning when you guys were out because I didn’t want you guys mad if Lady or Jax peed or pooped in the house.”

This is part of a letter my daughter wrote to me after the worst weekend of my life. I was in a motorcycle club and spent all of my extra time riding, drinking and partying. On this particular weekend, my wife and I had come home still fighting from a drunken argument we had the night before. It was bad. We even told the kids we would be getting a divorce.

I had let something other than my family consume who I was.

I can’t lie. I had fun riding with the club. I would ride hundreds of miles in a day. One week I put over 3,000 miles on my bike. I was living the dream. I had the wind in my face, and cold beer and a wild party waiting at every stop for the night. I would come home on Sunday afternoons or evenings and be greeted by my kids. They would ask what I did. I couldn’t tell them because it was not child-appropriate.

When I was a soldier, the kids would brag to their friends that their daddy was a soldier and fought in Afghanistan. They would brag that I jumped out of airplanes and helicopters. Sometimes they even came and watched me do it. Now all they could say was that their daddy was in a motorcycle club and they didn’t know what I did. They used to be proud of me but now I was a ghost. My hero status had faded.

I needed a total makeover mentally, and my internal GPS needed to do some recalculating. My kids were losing faith in me, my wife had decided I wasn’t the man she married. I had lost track of who I was. I know I could never get those times back but I could, with time, be the man I was supposed to be.

On the following Tuesday, while my wife was at work, I had asked the kids to write letters to me. I told them I didn’t want them to hold back. I wanted them to tell me all the things they didn’t like that I had done. I wanted them to tell me how it made them feel. I wanted the hard truth.

Any human can listen to a religious leader, a friend, or their parents. I’m here to tell you that a child’s words written on a piece of paper is the loudest voice you can hear. I hadn’t lost my children to the club. They still cared enough to tell me all the things I had done wrong. They loved me the way I loved them. They loved me enough to help my GPS recalculate.

“It also made me really upset when you guys stopped playing games with us or even taking me and my brother to the mall or somewhere. But that goes back to the fact you guys were always gone on the weekends. It also makes me upset when you sit on the phone all the time. It makes me feel like you have better stuff to do than talk to me or my brother.”

Today my children are counting down the days till Christmas and wondering what is under the tree. I have asked them not to buy me a single gift, because they have given me the greatest gift anyone could receive. They gave me a second chance at being a real father. My wife gave me a second chance at being a real husband.

I’m still in the motorcycle club, but I’m once again the president of my family, my original club. We all make mistakes, but it’s not about the mistakes you make, it’s about the way you fix the problem.

I keep these letters on my nightstand for those days when I think a beer is the answer, or when I want to try to find a way out of watching yet another version of “Jingle Bells” at the school play. I read the letters often, sometimes just to remind myself how wonderful my children are.

Your kids will grow up with or without you. You can be a memory in their past or you can be a part of their future. I want to be both.

~Paul Bowling II

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