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