Flying Dadless


Erik Proulx is parenting without a script—or a father’s influence. And he’s doing a damn good job.


In my attention-seeking younger days, I took a morbid satisfaction in telling people that I grew up without a dad. I never volunteered the information, but neither did I pass up an opportunity to ham-fist my story into conversation. In fact, let me do that now.

I was 2 the last time I saw my father. He and my mom were teenagers when they conceived me. That was 1971, fresh off the decade of sex, drugs, and rock & roll, and into the decade of just drugs. By the time my father turned 20, he was already a full-blown heroin addict, and my mother was faced with the difficult decision to either kick him out and raise me alone or allow him to stay and expose me to daily drug abuse. She’s a smart woman; he got the boot.

He died from an overdose when I was 12. With him died any hopes of seeing him again one day, recovered and repentant.

Throughout high school and college, I relished the sympathy that came with dramatizing that story. Poor little puppy dog—you’ve been through so much. I loved hearing people say how strong I was. How unscathed I seemed. How tough it must have been growing up without the person who was supposed to teach me all about manhood and shaving and opening car doors for the ladies.

When I heard horror stories of other kids’ dads, I thought, yeah, but at least you had one. Dads may have shortcomings—they might be emotionally distant, or even abusive; but the physical presence of a father provides a psychological anchor.

Common wisdom dictates that we should end up like our fathers. It’s like staring into the headlight of an oncoming car; even though you know you’re supposed to stay in your lane, looking in that direction pulls you straight into its destructive path.


The truth is, growing up without a father was the single most positive influence I had in becoming a man, and now, being a dad.

Despite my father’s example, I’ve never had the slightest temptation to flee my own family. There’s probably no need to over analyze that. I’m sure it’s no more complicated than the fact that I can’t stand the image of my own kids looking out the window, wondering when I’ll be home, and my wife having to explain why I won’t be returning.

That’s not to say my dad’s absence didn’t affect me in undesirable ways. Being raised by women tends to impart feminine qualities. Like weeping at episodes of “Little House on the Prairie.” I think I was the only guy in school to do that. But pack up and leave? It’s just not in me. I’m not a perfect father, but I’m perfectly happy to be in their lives. It’s been said that 90% of being a dad is just showing up. I have that part covered. Now I’m working on the other 10%.

If anything, I go a little overboard. I don’t subconsciously smother my kids—I very consciously smother them. They get all the karate classes, trips to the Museum of Science, and evening story times a kid can take. I even cancelled a paying gig a few weeks ago (one I desperately needed), so I wouldn’t miss my son’s first t-ball game.

Maybe that’s not smothering. Maybe that’s just what dads do. I wouldn’t really know.


photo by author

About Erik Proulx

Recovering ad man. Filmmaker behind "Lemonade" and "Lemonade: Detroit." PSFK called him "A creative catalyst who inspires peers about their future." Roger Ebert called his film "gob smacking." Not that he's into name dropping.


  1. Erik,

    I lost my father (to a heart attack) when I was eight. Now my own son is that age. I have one life-goal which dwarfs all the others, which is to see him into adulthood. I can never listen to the Harry Chapin song, Cats in the Cradle, without tearing up.

    Thanks for your honest words.

  2. Well said, Eric! And I know plenty of big, burly guys who cry over TV shows and movies. Ain’t a bit of shame in it.

    Give your kids and extra hug from all of us? 🙂

  3. Years ago, I realized that if a person said “I will not abuse a child,” it was a powerful thing; but if a person who had been abused themselves said “I will not abuse a child,” the cycle was broken – forever. A cycle can only be broken from the inside – and all generations to come are affected. Thank you, not only on behalf of your children, but on behalf of your great-great-grandchildren. You, and your fellow fliers, are courageous men.

  4. MetalRabbit13 says:


    Bravo! Great post. If your actions follow the insight of your words, I’d say that you’re well beyond the mid-point of having the other 10% of being a Dad — as you said, showing up and being present, and you are, is 90% — covered.


  5. My dad left my mom when I was three years old. Granted, the effects of not having a father are different from a feminine perspective, and so I don’t know what you path must have been like.

    However, that being said, not having template provides it’s own benefits. It takes longer, but seeking out and recognizing/patterning oneself after chosen positive male influences crafts a uniquely meaningful “Dad Composite.” Your life is truly your own. Your choices are even more resonant for you because you didn’t have the built in prototype from which to build.

    …and fwiw, I don’t think you are smothering. 🙂 It’s never smothering our kids when they know that they are our first priority. Best to you, M.

  6. What a wonderful man, father you must be! I mean that, very cool. Strong, sensitive men are sexy! Nuff said.

  7. I liked you before this post, Erik. Now I feel like we’re brothers from different mothers.

  8. Great piece by a great guy (and obviously a great dad).

  9. Erik – I had a Dad growing up, he was just never there. Always working (or later I would learn, out screwing around.) Oddly enough, I married the same type of workaholic man!!! I commend you for breaking the cycle and relishing the joys of fatherhood. As I’ve often told my Dad…you can’t get those days back. Such a positive article. Well done.

  10. John and Joel,

    I’m not sure how someone who grew up with the pain of growing up fatherless could opt to repeat that cycle. Yet it’s more common than those of us who break it. It’s not not like we deserve a metal or anything, but it’s certainly something to take pride in. Thanks for your comments.

  11. That is unequivocally the one steadfast life-goal I have – to always be there for my children and to break a multi-generation father-less cycle. No matter what.

    Unfortunately, I still won’t be able to teach a son how to change the car’s oil, however. But that’s ok 🙂

  12. john badalament says:

    erik – as a fellow flyer, I can very much relate to your post…especially when you talked about not being able to bear the image of your son looking out the window. anyway, much more I could say, but can’t find words…thank you


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