Elmer Smith: “Somehow it always ends up sounding like signing up for the draft.”

In my twenties I was lucky to observe two terrific dads – my wife’s, and my brother. But that was my twenties, growing up I had zero male role models. I didn’t have a dad, and I can only recall one male school teacher (Lawton Elementary sixth grade teacher, Mr. Crell) who had an impact on my upbringing in a positive way. As a teenager, my peers spoke of any possibility of becoming a father with derision and fear. If I knew someone who had a dad, he or she wasn’t happy about it.

I had to learn about fatherhood through entertainment media. Older stuff like “Happy Days” and “The Brady Bunch” seemed out of whack with reality. Most entertainment of my era (the 80s) presented fathers as the dumb or broken players in any family (“Married With Children” anybody?). Shit, take a look at any entertainment media of today. Is it any different?

I’m lucky I had Mr. Rogers when I did, before I grew into the hard, cynical teenager I was.

Cynicism that’s been wearing away from me as I get older. A process that’s speed up considerably as I’ve been blessed with fatherhood. With Emma.

I thought I knew so much. I thought I had felt all there is to feel.

And then I saw her face. And held her in my arms. And heard her laugh. And heard her say “daddy”. And watched her hug her mommy. And watched her crawl for the first time. And saw her stand up and take her first steps. And cringed when she fell on her face, and looked for our reaction (which we shifted very, very fast to supporting), and smiled and got back up. And heard her yell when her grandpop and grandmom visit. And saw her snuggle with her Elmo and Philly Phanatic dolls. And watched her rip into her bookshelf, sit down in a pile of books, and paged through them one by one. And heard her laugh the hardest laugh you’ve ever heard when Zena was rolling over and running on by. And was able to look at my wife’s face, and share these moments with her.

So when Elmer Smith in the Daily News says we need to speak out about the joys of fatherhood, in the following, it sounds like truth to me.

…Plain truth is that most men have never learned to talk about being fathers. Somehow it always ends up sounding like signing up for the draft.

That’s a man thing. I’ve heard men who have been happily married for 30 years make it sound like they’re being held hostage. We rarely talk about our children the way mothers do.

Women talk about their children and it makes you think everybody ought to have one. Men make it sound like something that happens when you’re not careful.

It’s a tougher sell for a lot of young men today than it was for me. They see more baby’s daddies than custodial fathers. Marriage comes later, if at all.

The men I grew up around and paid attention to were all fathers. They were the most respected men in my world. If they showed up at a parent-teacher night at school, teachers couldn’t wait to talk with them.

By the time I became a man, I wanted to be a father. But I didn’t want it for my yet-to-be-born child. I wanted it for me.

We can tell that story. If we’re going to arrest a trend that threatens to destroy the fabric of life in our communities, we must tell that story.

Young men don’t just need to hear what’s going to happen to their children if they’re not there to raise them. They need to hear what it feels like to teach their sons how to ride a bike or catch a ball.

They need to know that no one, not even a mother, can make their daughters feel desirable and worthy of being loved the way they can.

They need to know there is nothing you can shoot up or snort up or rub on that can match the feeling you get when you see your child starting to walk like you or talk the way you do.

A lot of us have had moments like that, defining moments. That’s what we get out of being fathers.