The Dad I Always Wanted To Be

Eric Louie 

Eric Louie of the San Diego Men’s Division did the Sterling Men’s Weekend in March 1995. Ever since he has been a proponent of the initiation event. Though the Men’s Weekend is not a sanctioned MDI event, many of the MDI men had their start in men’s work at that weekend and still support men to attend. To keep the spirit of the Men’s Weekend alive, Louie offers this column, maintaining confidentiality as necessary.

My dad is a good man and was a good dad.

He had no model or example to look towards as a father, since he grew up with an old woman who he thought was his grandmother, and a tough old man who he didn’t know the relation. There were difficult times that he endured as a child, and when he became a dad, he just did the best he could. But he couldn’t possibly know to show up at his sons’ sporting events, or school events, or be interested in his sons’ friends. He did know to make a living, provide for his wife and children, and be home every night. Help with homework? Not a chance. Throw the baseball around? No baseball, because we might get a broken bone from those physical sports like baseball and football. Fatherly advice? None, really, just stay in school, go to college, and be a doctor. But lots of family activities, family outings, not much individual attention, though.

So that was my model. And when I was young, as most of us, I knew no better. I did see other dads participating in Boy Scouts, coaching sports, seeing their kids play their sports, and it really didn’t matter that my dad wasn’t there – no one asked, “Hey, where’s your dad?” Until I got into high school and started hanging around with a friend’s dad that DID give us advice, talked to us about sex and relationships, played basketball and went fishing with us. He was active, a man of the Lord, and a very practical man with good morals and standards.

Eric Louie with his elder son Donny and his tribe.


Fast forward, to “I’m a dad now” at age 28. I was very interested in participating in the life of my first son, as distracted as I was by work, alcohol and drugs. I changed diapers. I bathed him, clipped his finger and toenails, made him bottles of formula. I rocked him to sleep. I sang him songs (poor kid). I played with him. I babysat in those rare moments that his mother left the house without him. And then there were two, and I woke up early every morning, changed their diapers, gave them a warm bottle, so their mom could get a few more minutes of sleep.

Then their mom and I divorced. She moved 100 miles away.

I was able to see the boys once a month, then every other weekend. Then, I moved 500 miles away. And the “every other weekend” turned into flying the boys to see dad once a month, for about four years. Finally, I moved to their town, and was able to spend that kind of time that every boy deserves from their father, whether he is estranged or not. The opportunity to participate in school. The chance to be involved in their daily activities, sports, friends, bikes, homework. And I had a job that was often flexible enough for me to see those sports events, take those field trips, help with that homework, taxi them to practice, cook those dinners, play those kid games, take them to the zoo, hang out with them and their friends. It was a natural thing, or so I thought, to just be there for them and ask them, “Hey, what’s going on this weekend?” and try to participate in it.

LAN parties on the weekends, with 15 other teenage kids invading the house and crashing everywhere from the couch to the kitchen floor, and 24-hour gaming marathons in the garage. Then, their mom moved them to a new city and state over 1500 miles away, and I had to father “from afar” during the formative years, where I was really needed but not readily available to them.

Let’s move on to today, where I’m a grandfather of five, and father of two very different boys. One married, one single. One independent, one still living with mom, stepdad and grandma. One relatively outgoing, one very reclusive. One financial successful, one relatively stable financially but underachieving. And I get to reflect on what kind of father I was when they were growing up, how my values, my morals, and my beliefs are imprinted in them.

And I see it. In both boys. Excuse me, both MEN. I see some of me as my oldest son deals with his five children. And some of me when my youngest son avoids me and won’t return my calls. The over-achievement of the older. The deep compassion for his grandmother by the younger. The prioritizing of games over kids by my oldest. The financial irresponsibility of the youngest.

The father I always wanted to be. The father that participated. The father who advised. The father who encouraged, loved, cried, sacrificed, mentored, coached, learned from, facilitated, screwed up, failed, neglected his sons. It was all these things that I wanted to have and some that I ended up having, when I was growing up.

The father that my father wasn’t. Thank you dad for those lessons as I grew up. My dad, he still hasn’t changed, and I’m back to living with him, today, in his golden years at 89 years old. On his terms.

My honor and privilege.

Happy Father’s Day.

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