Becoming a father; losing a father; and what it means to be a father
Fatherhood, you could say, has been the dominating theme in my life for the past 12 months -- in good and bad ways.
It started last July, when my first child was born and Zoey Grace Myftiu entered the world. Since then, she’s basically redefined what my life means and been the focus of my existence as I learn what is required of a father. Every day has been a blessing since her birth.
On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, my father, Vedat Myftiu, passed away a couple months back unexpectedly at the age of 70. He was loved tremendously by his entire family, myself included of course, and now I head into this Father’s Day weekend for the first time without my father to share it with.
Through the birth of my daughter and the loss of my father, I can say without a doubt that I now understand what it really means to be a father, something that just wasn’t possible before these experiences.
My journey to this realization has not always been easy, and some days are better than others, but in the end I believe I am a better person for it -- as I now realize more what is most important in life, and how too often we forget.
I now realize that, in the grand scheme of life, there is nothing more pure, honest and real than the relation between a father and his child -- no matter what your age.
Becoming a father
To put into words how one feels when you see your first child born is just not possible. Only those of us who have witnessed this miracle and afterward come to realize what it meant -- that you are now responsible for guiding this child from a little being into a grown adult -- is not something that can just be explained. The amount of love you feel at that moment, when you see this person you helped create and hear her first cries, is something that can only be experienced in that room.
To put it bluntly, my entire life changed that day. Prior to July 9, 2011, I was a guy whose thoughts revolved around himself and his wife and immediate family, but didn’t have the kind of responsibility that being a father brings. Now, and for the next couple decades, my first thoughts have to be with my child. My baby, who will soon be my toddler and then later my teenager, etc., is my responsibility -- and that’s great. It’s not a burden, it’s something you naturally crave. There’s a reason humans naturally want to have children. We want to pass on our wisdom and love and teach and inspire our children in every way possible. That’s simply human nature, and has happened since we have existed.
The bond between a parent and child is stronger than anything I could have imagined.
You always hear people say things like, “I’d take a bullet for (fill in the blank),” but most of the time it’s just hyperbole. But I would honestly do anything necessary to protect my child, even if it brought me harm, because that’s what a father does. As the years go on, I will do everything I my power to make sure my daughter grows up in a loving environment that will foster her having a successful life, because that’s what I have to do.
I am her father, I don’t have any other choice, and I don’t want any other choice.
While I’m sure I may not be quite as rosy in my assessments in later years when she wants to talk back to me and my wife and conflict arises, I know that I am a better person now that I am a father, and I feel more love and devotion to my daughter than i could have imagined going in.
Losing a father
When my daughter was born, my father was the happiest person on the planet, right on par with me and my wife. You see, he was the typical grandparent-in-waiting, nagging me to have a child for a long time before it happened. And I’m glad he did, because he was lucky enough to enjoy at least some time with his granddaughter before he passed.
I’m not going to lie and say my father and I had the perfect relationship. No parent and child do. Yes there were times we fought, both in my youth and adult days. But the greatest thing about the bond between a father and child is that after it all, you make up and laugh about it -- whatever “it” was. That’s because we had the same kind of unbreakable bond that I have with my daughter -- he was my father, so no matter what happened I still loved him, and he still loved me. This was an absolute truth that could not be broken by anything.
My father never shied away from telling me he loved me, because he did unconditionally. He came from a very humble upbringing overseas, from a country without freedom, risked his life to come to the United States, and was lucky enough to spend the majority of his life in this country living freely and surrounded by people who loved him. He had a great sense of humor, did everything he could in his life to help the people he loved, and did countless things to help raise me to be the man I am today.
As he grew older and health issues took their toll, much of my time with him was spent at doctor offices. Every time, without fail, he would brag to the nurses and doctors about how I had graduated from Michigan State University and was working as an editor at The Oakland Press. He was proud of me, because that’s what fathers feel for their children. They don’t think about their own problems and concerns -- instead they focus on their children’s well-being and want everyone to know when their kids are doing well.
I can guarantee you I’ll be doing the same thing as my daughter grows up. With every accomplishment of hers, from her first step to her college diploma, I will express my pride in her often, probably to the point where she’s embarrassed.
Because that’s what fathers do.
What it means to be a father
This Sunday, I will be spending much of my Father’s Day working out at Michigan Speedway, covering the sport I love for The Oakland Press.
Though my father was never into NASCAR (he stuck mainly with the NBA), I can say one thing for certain -- as he watches me this weekend from wherever he is, he is smiling. He is happy. He is proud.
He is all these things because the child he raised is doing what he loves to do and wanted to do for his whole life. He is happy because I am happy in my work and I am happy at home with my wife and child.
He is happy because the definition of being a father (or parent in general) is that you do everything you can for your children in the hopes that they turn out to have a good life and are happy. If they are happy, you are happy, and you’ll do anything to make them happy.
My daughter is not even 1 year old, and I already know this is how I feel. If she grows up to have a happy and successful life, that is the best thing that can ever happen to me.
Too often, we make Father’s Day all about gifts. What am I going to buy my dad this year?, etc., etc.
It may sound cliche, but the best gift you can give your father this Sunday is to let him know that you love him and appreciate all he has done for you in your life. He’ll appreciate it more than you can imagine.
Sure, he might like some sort of token, but down the road most of those gifts are going to end up in a drawer somewhere and forgotten about. What won’t be forgotten about between a father and their child is the love that is shared between them.
I must admit that many times in the past, a day like Father’s Day was just a passing thought to me; Like so many people I would just give dad a call or give him a gift and go on with the day.
My advice to you: Try not to do this -- whether it’s Father’s Day or any day.
I’ll be visiting my father in the cemetery this weekend. If you’re lucky enough to still have your father alive, let him know you care.
He’ll appreciate it, because that’s what fathers do.
Matt Myftiu can be reached at email@example.com.