I was 20 when my oldest son was born. I was young, dumb and completely clueless about what went into being a dad. I had dreams of being a rock star, and I hadn't even begun to live my life yet. I was excited about being a dad, but selfish in my resolve to still follow my dreams. So, I chased them.
In my son's youngest years, I'd spend a few hours at his mother's house, instead of taking him every other weekend. I'd play with him on a Saturday and then leave, knowing it wasn't right. But, I was too selfish to turn back. His mother was kind and understanding most of the time. Although, she would push me to spend more time with him, and she took any opportunity I would give to be there, even if just for a few hours.
This didn't change until he was 5, and I was in a new relationship. I was 25 by this time, and I had done most of the living I wanted to do. So, I was ready — in my mind — to be a parent. With that said, I still wasn't there enough. I focused more on my relationship and how badly I wanted a family. I wasn't truly dedicating myself to being a dad and spending time with him.
It was very easy to incorporate him into my life at this point, but I didn't do it the right way. By this point, he had a stepdad. I allowed him to be the one to take my son to all of his events and build that father-son bond with him just because it was easier. I didn't pull my weight or do my part, and because of that, I lost precious bond building time. I allowed another man to just take my place.
It was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. When I should've been taking him to his ball games, I let his stepdad do it. When I should've been coaching his team, I let his stepdad do it. Many of the first I should've had as father and son, I let his stepdad have with him. It was all because driving 30 minutes in traffic was “too far” on a weekday after work. My selfishness cost me time and a connection with my son that will take me years to get back.
When I was 28, my youngest son was born. By then, I was ready to be a dad. I had done everything I wanted to do, settled into the life of a family man and was loving it. My bond with my youngest son was instantaneous.
I was happy to get up at 2 am, give him that bottle and rock him to sleep at night. I embraced and enjoyed every single moment I had with him because of the mistakes I'd made with my oldest. I built that father-son relationship from the moment he was born.
Even after his mother and I split, I have maintained that relationship and that bond, and I have gone above and beyond to nurture it. I am closer to him because I was ready when he was born, but I am ever more vigilant of what I have missed out on with my oldest because of it. The things I do with my youngest and the bond I have with him, I should've built with my oldest.
My oldest is now going into middle school, and he is getting to that age where parents aren't so cool anymore. He's independent and wants to do his own thing. He'd rather chat on his iPhone or play video games than sit and talk to me. Trying to build a bond with him now — the one I should've built when he was younger — is extremely difficult.
The reality is, I can't take back the years I didn't put in. I can't rewind and do it all over again. I wasn't there like I should've been, and he knows that.
He now calls his stepdad “Dad,” and no matter how much it hurts to hear, I can't say a word. He is “Dad.” Being a dad by birthright doesn't take the place of being a “dad” by the things you do. How can I be angry at the man who has taken the time to dedicate to my son that I didn't? I can't. His stepdad earned his name, and in a sense, I don't deserve mine.
It is never too late to be a present dad, but I see now that I should've been a present dad all along. My son deserved better from me, and I failed him. He is my son, and he loves me. Though he will forgive me, I know he will never forget.
I write this not to throw a pity party for myself about my failures, but to send a message to other young dads, who may be walking in my shoes. It doesn't matter at what age you become a father; you don't get the choice to decide when you want to truly invest yourself into that role.
You cannot blame age, ignorance, anything or anyone else in the world on your failure to invest in your relationship with your child but yourself. It's on you to accept your responsibility to be present. It's up to you to nurture that relationship. Your child will not do that for you. Whether your child lives with you or not, it's up to you to make time for him or her. You need to be the parent you will regret not being later.
Things happen in life that we are often not prepared for. What makes you a man is how you handle it. I will be the first to admit that I did not handle my responsibility to be a dad to my oldest son like a man. I handled it like a boy, blaming my age for my selfishness.
Age is only a number once you become a parent. Whether you are 16 or 45, once you are a dad, you have a responsibility to be the very definition of what that word means and more.
Don't let your age or you own selfishness cause you to miss out on the opportunity and the blessing of being a dad. The early years of your child's life are the most precious, so be an active participant in them.
It's never too late to be a present dad,and there's no excuse why you shouldn't just be one from the moment he or she is put on this earth. Your child needs you to be there, so make sure you are. You owe it to your kid.