First Father’s Day | Christopher Warren

First Father's Day | Christopher Warren

First Father’s Day

What does it mean to be a father?

I know how much my own dad means to me and what he meant to me over 12 years of incarceration.

Without my parents, my prison experience would have been drastically different and even more difficult than it was. They were a safety net financially, emotionally, spiritually for me. They were able to keep me relevant to my sons by spending time with them, bringing them to visit, and keeping us connected. They were the lighthouse in a really crappy white squall with no masts or sails and just an eternity of choppy seas ahead. Without that light, I may have lost hope. 

And now that I’m out of prison, what about my boys? As a dad who’s been in prison for most of my sons’ lives, I’m beginning to find out.

As much as my father was there for me, I was not there for my boys.

Being a prison dad is tough, but not for me. Tough for them. For me, it was absenteeism. Absenteeism is easy for the absent person because it requires no work. It might have been emotionally crappy but I did not have to discipline them, pay for food, take care of rent, take them to school, to doctor’s appointments, stay up late at night and go to all of their practices.

All of that work I left to someone else when I decided to become a criminal.

So for years the only fathering I did was on 15-minute phone calls and through letters, which isn’t fathering at all. It’s barely being present. In fact, it’s not even being present. 

It is simply trying to prevent irrelevance. And the irrelevance and the fight against it are tiresome and soul-draining. The effort is almost quixotic in nature, and reminds me of my dad waking up every morning at four to get to the gym and still get me breakfast and take me to school. 

My gratitude for my own dad refocuses me on my boys. I’ve been home with them in Sacramento for the last two months, and we just spent our first Father’s Day together in 12 years. The last time was in 2008 when Chris was 2 and Denny was almost 1. Now they are 14 and 13.

So this Father’s Day, with the BBQ going, and the music, and the kids in the pool, and the adults coming in and out of various states of tech-distraction I thought: “What did I do? How much have I missed?” And yet paradoxically in that moment, I was extremely happy, content, and almost in bliss.

And that day, with the three generations together, I was able to reflect on relationships between parents and children, fathers, and sons. 

For me and my father, prison visits extended a relationship we had well in hand. I was disrespectful as a teenager but during my bid I worked into my mid-30s and my dad and I fell into a natural friendship that I am grateful for.

For me and my boys, they don’t remember a life with me not in prison. There is no relationship to “rebuild,” to “re-establish.” This Father’s Day, it was not my “first Father’s Day in 12 years”…

It was my first Father’s Day. 

But it wasn’t their first Father’s Day. They had experienced Father’s Day after Father’s Day with fill-ins. Uncles. Boyfriends of their mother. Grandpas. With a “father” in title only in this prison facility, or that prison camp, or in this county jail. 

And now I’m back. Since I’ve been home it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses with them. I’m doing some of the work. Disciplining. Dealing with lying, crying, anger because things aren’t fair, paying child support and bills. The work that comes with being a father. But on this day, my first Father’s Day, there was no resentment or anger. It felt new: something entirely different and freshly created. When I think about this day, this Father’s Day of 2020, with three generations of Warrens together, I know it was a blessing.

Three generations of Warren men, spending time with family, doing life together. 

As I reflect back on Father’s Day, and I think about current struggles, with school closures, COVID, co-parenting, and the path forward I remind myself: this….this is a blessing. If it is a work, it is a good work.

And the pool splashes. The sun shines. Chris drags his brother underwater. I laugh and God is good. 

I guess I will wait till later to tell them I took their PlayStation away for three weeks…..

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If you loved this post, you might enjoy Noah’s post on his relationship with his father, and what his passing meant to him and his family.

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