By Kenneth Braswell
As a young boy growing up in Brooklyn, I wondered about the existence of many things: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Bigfoot, UFO’s and even God. At different times in my life I had to grow up to understand the reality of each of them. I would eventually learn that time would be the major factor in determining how I believed in them all. However, there was one mystery not among the aforementioned list that was somewhat different; dad.
Throughout my life I had heard of him. Yet like the other things I had difficulty determining whether or not his existence was true. I had remembered a few stories about him in the whispers of my family, just like Santa Claus. I think I saw a rare photo of him, just like Bigfoot. However with the limited information I had, the belief in my dad was hard to muster, just like the list above. Like many childhood mysteries I tended to give fantasy the benefit of the doubt. Somehow it was much easier to believe in the existence of Batman and Spiderman. At least I could depend on them showing up in my life on Saturday morning in cartoons.
As life went on and I grew older, even mermaids and unicorns fell into some measurement of perspective between my childish imagination and emerging reality. I began to understand that I could dream of things to be true, knowing that they never would. As much as I wanted to live on the ranch with Ben Cartwright or in the projects with James Evans, I knew those things would never become true no matter how hard I tried to believe they could.
Eventually I got older, lived a little, experienced a lot, and left behind the fantasies and mysteries of my boyhood without much loss. I could celebrate Christmas without caring if Santa Claus showed up, I could get in trouble without expecting Superman to save me and go to sleep at night not worrying if little green men would evade earth.
Letting go of the hope of dad, wasn’t as easy.
Unlike the others, even though he was not real to me, he was real to others. There were those who felt his presence and were impacted by his super power. There were those who had the opportunity to experience him as he was; to touch and feel his garment. He became real to me in my thoughts and dreams and because of his absence, I was angry. Why? Because he was my opportunity to see at least one of my fantasies come true. He disappointed the boy in me; the child who waited to see him come down the chimney with gifts just for me. The little boy who wanted to see what is was like to try on his shoes and wear his cape. The kid who wanted to tell all his friends that dads are real.
It is strange to know that in the purist form of evidence, I grew even older and became a dad. I became one who just like my dad, did not realize there was a child believing in my existence. A little girl who, for a brief time, experienced the hug of a man who was supposed to love her unconditionally and be there forever. How ironic that I would forget the lesson that was taught to me: dads do exist and their absence confirms the reality of their existence. It is the lesson my daughter will always be reminded of by the little girl in her.
Fathers Day is another reminder that the absence of dad confirms his existence. It is the holiday that stimulates a host of negative emotions, not because we don’t believe in his existence, but because of the reality of his presence. Whether dads live with their children or not, it is possible to be a present, involved father and spend quality, positive time with them. The reality best shown in the fact that children with stable, involved fathers are better off on almost every cognitive, social, and emotional measure developed by researchers.
Today, I’m 57 years old and can finally say, iBELIEVE in Dad. My work at Fathers Incorporated is proof of his reality and the truth that even sight unseen, he leaves emotional stock in the hearts of his children. iBELIEVE in Dad because beyond the ability to see him in my own life, I can see his presence shine in the lives of children who never had to doubt his existence. The consistent, available, present dad who is accountable deserves every accolade afforded to him. Dad deserves to be seen above the negative societal narrative that berates and undermines his significance.
I grew up wanting to believe in things I could not see or touch and to have faith in the unbelievable. My belief in Santa Clause is the same way. I may not believe in the existence of a fat man who delivers toys once a year but I can believe in the context to which he exists to spread love by giving. While I’ve never seen an alien from another world, I can still look up into the stars and surmise that something could exist in the vastness of the universe.
If iBELIEVE in those things, you can too. The relevant question is not “if” dads exist, it is “where” dads exist. Dads are not missing; jaded hearts misplace them and those who refuse to believe in the importance of fatherhood degrade them. While it is understandable to not believe in your own dad or the father of your own children, I encourage you this Fathers Day to express your believe in the impact, importance, adoration and concept of dad.
Kenneth Braswell is the Chief Executive Officer of Fathers Incorporated in Atlanta, GA. He has spent over 29 years in the service of family and community. A husband and father of five, he continues to see the world through the eyes of his own children. For the past seven years FI has been the prime contractor for the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He can be followed on Twitter at @braswellkenneth and @fathersincorp. Mr. Braswell can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org