As I’ve stated before, very few people in our lives influence us like our parents do. Be it our biological parents or parents who adopt us — or people who just take it upon themselves to look over us — they are the ones who most likely determine what we are going to be in life. This is all whether we like it or not, and sometimes much to our chagrin.
My dad was 24 years old when I was born. By some standards in our culture, that is an old age to have a child. (Then again, look at me in my mid-30s and without a child yet.) Yet he was still too young to be a father. His lifestyle and his job took him away from being a father. He was more of a once-in-a-while-during-vacations-and-holidays dad. It was mom that was always around, really. But he did what he could, and he passed on to me several of his traits, good traits.
For example, I find great comfort and solace in fixing things. These things don’t have to be just mechanical. (He taught me the name and use of every tool in his shop.) I also find a lot of comfort in fixing computer code, editing documents, or going to the aid of a person. Dad has always been about fixing things and seeing big, complicated systems (machines, mostly) come back to life after a few fixes.
So the best times I’ve spent with my dad have been fixing things like my bicycle when I was a child, and my jeep when I became an adult.
But did all this make him my father? In a word, yes. But fatherhood is a little more complicated than that. See, fathers give their children all the tools they need in life, not just to fix things but to create things and become productive members of society. They protect their children from this big, bad world of ours while at the same time showing them how to navigate it. In my dad’s absence, a lot of other people — male and female — stepped into the role of fathers.
There was my boss at the lab. He taught me all about being a professional in a professional setting and behaving like one (as much as I could). He went to battle for me when I needed someone to protect me from some of the nasty people I was forced to work with. And he guaranteed that I got my master’s degree while still being fully employed.
There is also my grandmother. She worked hard to keep me in line at home. Her punishments were severe enough to teach me what was acceptable behavior and what wasn’t. But they were not abusive. And there was nothing she wouldn’t have done for me to help me move ahead in life.
Of course, there are plenty of other examples of people being fatherly to me, as well as motherly. And this is not at all to put down my dad as not having fulfilled his role as a father. He did. But his absence at times had to be filled by the presence of other people, and that’s not a bad thing. (It really does take a village, and we don’t live in a social bubble.)
That’s why today, Father’s Day, is not just about my dad. It’s also about all the other men and women in my life who guided me, taught me, protected me, and allowed me to be who I am today. From my current advisor at Hopkins to my father-in-law, to even some of my friends, they all deserve praise and gratitude today for choosing to be fatherly to a young man full of (sometimes crazy) dreams and ambitions.
¡Feliz día de los padres, papá!
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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