Growing up in the 80s, in a culture forever changing, the challenges of fatherhood took on new meaning. Generational belief systems told my father to conform to the toxic masculinity and male role belief systems of the past. Manhood meant that expressing emotion displayed weakness. But in all truth, as fathers, this ‘weakness’ can be our greatest strength.
My father was present, but was overcome by the pressure to keep my grandfather’s business ventures above water while still maintaining a healthy home life. Shame and repression of emotion drove my father to the only coping skill he was ever taught: denial and running from the pain by consuming alcohol until his body shut down, only to wake up in the hell of the following day. Five o’clock became the door to excuses and escape, a numb wasteland where family and fatherhood was lost in bottomless whiskey glasses. To be a loving father was my greatest desire, a goal I learned from my ever-present and amazing Mother, who taught me not only the value of female role belief systems, but also how to be a compassionate and loving father.
Today, on this 23rd of April, my son turns 13 years old. A once challenging and confusing time in my own life, I can’t imagine the things he is facing and experiencing being the child of an incarcerated parent. I was fortunate to be a part of his life every day until he was six and a half years old. I became the father I always wanted: loving, caring, connected, compassionate, present, emotionally available, and authentic. I made breakfast, lunch, and dinners, I volunteered at his school, and was there every step of his early development. This shaped him into the most empathetic, polite, and compassionate young man. My son is stronger than I could have ever been; his mother struggles with alcoholism and being a single mother. My son has been moved in and out of schools and homes more than I have in my 43 years.
As a father, my fears coincide with my absence. These prison walls, along with the distance of five states, restrict my fatherhood. To be a father over a 15-minute phone call or through prehistoric letters in a technologically advanced culture that only communicates through social media and text messages is almost impossible. My fears became reality when I was told he was bullied–hit on the bus as another heartless youth filmed and posted the act. But I can’t be there! Despite the obstacles, I started writing letters titled “Dad’s Guide to the Galaxy” to teach him what school doesn’t: emotional intelligence, self-awareness, anger management, and what a father looks like in this culturally diseased and distant time.
Fatherhood is the most rewarding and yet emotionally taxing experience. It has taught me patience, wisdom, forgiveness, and unconditional love. A father’s love conquers all.
Mount Tamalpais College is tuition-free for students and entirely funded by private donations. Your tax-deductible gift expands access to learning, technology, and opportunity for people incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. If you’re moved by Jon’s words, please consider making a gift today.