It Took a Near-Divorce for Me to Understand What It Means to Be a Dad

Father's Day is great — it's an honor just to be called "Dad" — but it's the ordinary moments that I now cherish.

by Zachery Román

The other day, I was reviewing some of the old videos I took of my kids when they were younger — mostly ordinary occasions with no real significance to them, just my desire to capture a moment in time. As I watched them, I could barely recall the “tough” times when I had to wake up and give one a bottle or change a diaper or soothe a cry. It’s funny, but those challenging times have faded to nothing but distant memories.

Yesterday, I got out my camera and started filming my daughters playing with their dolls. They stopped for a second to observe what I was doing, then kept playing. They’re older now — my oldest is almost in middle school — so I realized that if there was ever a time when I should record them playing with dolls, it was now.

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For the dads reading this article, let me say: Father’s Day, quite frankly, isn’t about you.

Yes, I know it’s nice to be acknowledged by your loved ones, to get a tie or a cologne or be taken out to Wingstop without anyone complaining. Yes, it’s hard work being a man of integrity and strength, but let’s be honest: If it weren’t for those little people called your children, you’d be just another dude sitting on your couch watching sports or playing video games.

Those little ones enabled you to be called a “father.” Whether you act like one or not is on you.

Before I toot my own horn, the truth is, I almost missed the boat with my family. About four years ago, my wife and I seriously contemplated divorcing. I moved out of the house and thought it was over. During our separation, I started thinking about my children and all the ordinary and special times I would miss if I continued down the road I was on.

I watched some of those same videos I mentioned earlier and for a brief moment thought, “I could just make up those times on my weekends when they would visit me.” Thankfully, someone intervened and gave me the smack on the head I needed.

Without a doubt: Being married is a challenge. Being a father is a challenge. Being a man who has the intestinal fortitude to do what’s right even when you don’t want to is a challenge. But what I’ve learned is, with every challenge there is a reward.

Father’s Day is my reward, in the sense that if I’ve done my job right, then my wife and kids will not hesitate to honor me that day. But more so, for me, the real honor is in being called a “father” or “dad.”

I know a single mother who’s rearing two girls. As we were talking about the father of her youngest, she told me that he wasn’t involved in the child’s life at all. Basically, he lost interest once he found out about the pregnancy. I asked the mother what she’ll tell her daughter when she inquiries about the father, and the response … can’t be printed here.

However, my response is: This guy is missing it. He’s missing all the wonderful, boring, unnerving, frustrating, aggravating, scary, memorable, heartwarming, loving times with his daughter, and he will never get them back. That’s sad.

I’ve learned that it’s those little moments, the ones we forget, that are important. They’re important because those moments are used to build a relationship with your kids and help them know that you’re committed. They’re like building blocks.

Previously, when it came to spending time with my kids, my wife used to tell me, “You’re missing it, and you’re going to regret it later.” She was right. At times, I can be all over the map, doing chores, taking care of odds and ends, and I forget that I need to be present in the here and now. If I had any words of encouragement and wisdom, they would come from my experience of not getting it right as a father.

Take advantage of those unremarkable, monotonous moments. Enjoy the fact that you’re a father and remember that it’s an honor, for not every man gets to have that title.

Four years ago, I had a choice to make. Be the father my children needed or be that weekend dad, who is involved but doesn’t get those little moments in life to reflect upon later. Thankfully, I chose a course that I believe is in the process of building those blocks, and if I’m lucky, will turn into something sturdy and concrete like a loving relationship with my children.

This Father’s Day, if you are as fortunate as I am, to have a wife and children that love you despite your failures and weaknesses, then you’re blessed. Take a moment to thank them for giving you the gift of being a “dad,” and remember, despite the challenges fatherhood presents, it’s all worth it to look back years from now and think, “I’m glad I didn’t miss it.”

Zachery Román is still working on being a better father and husband. He doesn’t have all the answers but knows that he prefers hanging with his family to sitting on the couch playing video games or watching sports on TV.