As Father's Day approaches, I can't help but find myself thinking about the fathers in my life (I have one father, one stepfather, one father-in-law, and maybe one ex-stepfather out there somewhere), and the fact that my children, as the products of a lesbian family, don't have a dad.
My partner and I have always been concerned about our two children not having a male role model in the house. We do have several good men in our lives, but the ones who are local are mostly husbands of friends who, by proxy, have become friends of ours (mad props to Daddy Steve), and there aren't a ton of those. We have among us three grandfathers, and my father-in-law is the one the children see most regularly, because he lives the closest.
My partner's father has a different demeanor and communication style than my own father. He's the polar opposite of me, physically: He's big, has a deep voice, speaks slowly and loudly and not all that frequently, and is a bit physically intimidating. He's not a hugger, at least not at first. He could easily go several hours sitting at home reading and not interacting with anyone else. He's not warm and fuzzy -- at least not on the surface, and not a bit like the modern, bougie dads you meet in brownstone Brooklyn who are huggers and wear baby carriers without shame.
I attribute these aspects in part to his being brought up Pennsylvania Dutch. If, like me, you're from Texa-California and have never heard of that, it refers to immigrants and their descendants from southwestern Germany and Switzerland who settled in Pennsylvania in the 17th and 18th centuries. It may be culturally understood that people from this group, particularly men age 65 and above, are a bit guarded, socially and emotionally. My partner's sister once helpfully explained, "We just don't communicate in our family." I think it's a subset of "W.A.S.P." culture.
But after 15 years with my partner, my father-in-law has cozied up to me a bit, and I think we have a pretty good relationship now. I worried what he would be like as a grandfather when we first started having kids -- whether he'd talk to them, hug them, play with them, teach them to play ball, fish, and do algebra (the kinds of things my dad taught me). My father-in-law has come around a lot in that department, but slowly. And on our most recent visit last month, although there were tense moments where the kids didn't say "good morning" to Granddad quite effusively enough, we did have a breakthrough.
We were with my partner's family at their home, and we had all been out to dinner and drinks together. (A martini or two, I have learned, does loosen the aforementioned social and emotional guard.) When we got home, the kids were meandering around the table, where my father-in-law was reading the paper. They approached him, and he looked up and, in response to them asking what he was doing, he started quacking at them. By that I mean he talked to them in a Donald Duck voice. They're of a different generation than he and probably don't even register Donald Duck, but I think Quack is a language that crosses borders. The kids smiled, giggled, begged him to do it over and over, and for maybe two or three minutes, they were gathered around him, closely. They were communicating. It was a brief moment of connectivity, and I watched from a few feet away, understanding just how special and fleeting it would be for all four of us. Donald went to bed that night and was nowhere to be found the next morning, but I'm hoping he comes back to visit on Fourth of July.
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