Will You Pleeeeease Be My Daddy?
Updated: Mar 2, 2021
By Allan Shedlin
Grampsy and Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group
“Will you PLEEEEEEEASE be my Daddy?” asked 10-year-old Rodney, grabbing my hand and looking up at me with imploring eyes. I had met Rodney only 45 minutes earlier in a daddying discussion group that I had just conducted in his school.
The melancholy, far-away look in Rodney’s eyes brought something important into focus for me. I had seen this look of yearning before, and it always yanked my heart.
I had seen it in the eyes of kids I had spoken with. I heard it from the 7-year-old girl who said, “If I had a daddy, he would hold me on his lap and call me ‘his princess’.” I had witnessed it in the eyes of fathers and grandfathers. I heard it from the 42-year-old father who never met his own father but told me through his tears that if he ever did, he would tell his dad, “I don’t know you, but I love you anyway because you are my father.”
Then I remembered that I had also seen that yearning and resignation staring back at me in a mirror, reflecting my thoughts of what might have been if circumstances had been different – if, for instance, my Dad had been more present when I was growing up. I had known that he would be there in a pinch, but I needed more than that. Being available in a pinch was just not enough.
As often happens when we do not get what we need at home, I looked elsewhere.
I assembled a patchwork dad from men I met who provided the paternal fragments needed to afford security during the chilling challenges of childhood. I began to create the “ideal dad” in my mind’s eye, shaping him from men I admired: a stranger who winked at me across the aisle on a city bus; the Good Humor man who allowed me to be his “assistant” selling ice cream outside my elementary school; my fifth-grade teacher, who was the kindest man I ever met; a wise and sensitive grandfather; a local college baseball player who invited me to be the team batboy; a friend’s dad who had a playful sense of humor; an uncle who once came to watch me play a high school soccer game; the director of a camp for emotionally disturbed children where I served as a counselor; and even bits and pieces from characters I read about in books or saw in movies or on television.
I scavenged daddying morsels wherever I could find them to satisfy my hunger for paternal attention.
My daddy-deprivation also caused me to look within, to daydream. I had rationalized that my dad was as good a dad as he knew how to be. I rationalized that he never learned how to be a father because his father was absent most of his life. I rationalized that expectations for dads in the 1940s and 50s were different from today – dads then were not expected to be much more than breadwinners and disciplinarians. Nurturing was a mother’s job, not something you expected of dads. I imagined ways in which I would be a different kind of father, making a commitment to be exuberantly involved in the lives of the children I planned to have someday.
But all my rationalizing did little to lessen the sadness I felt. Sometimes there is a roughness to the world that only a daddy can smooth out.
Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, a “bonus” son, five grandchildren, and three “bonus” grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, policy development, and advising. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019 he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D the most important “degree” of all.