My childhood had no Dad jokes.

My daughter just recently finished 3rd Grade, and her last unit involved research on dinosaurs. So, of course, this means I could bust out a few Dad jokes on her, and I did.

“What does a Triceratops sit on? It’s Tricera-Bottom!”

She laughed and is still repeating that joke to every person she knows. This exchange got me thinking. How are Dad jokes so universal? How did this become a thing? More importantly, how did I develop the habit?

For most of you in my region of the world, there is a good chance you grew up with a Dad waiting for his chance at a Dad joke. I, unfortunately, was one of a few many that did not grow up with Dad waiting around. I’ve had a ton of time to think about this, and I have come to a conclusion; I have a few people to thank for serving as father figures.

My Biological Father:
I, at least, got to know my father a little while, and to his credit, he did try to impart a mega-ton of his brand of wisdom on me while he had me. I do think he may have simultaneously been looking for redemption from his voluntary absence. It was confusing. It still is sometimes. All of this to say, I didn’t model how to be a Dad from my actual biological Dad. Let alone learn Dad jokes from him.

I am outrageously thankful to know my kids love me. I feel like they love me, the person, just as much as they love me for being their Dad. I can’t really express how much joy that brings me. Truth be told, I am wildly unworthy of it, but I’ll suck it up for all that its worth because it is a gift. A gift I understand from a very unique perspective because although I love my father for being my father, I don’t really love him, the person.

It may sound harsh, but it’s not. My father has shaped me more by what he didn’t do for me, than by what he actually did try to do. He is by all outward appearances, a loving husband to my step-mother. He seems to have been a good father to my half-sisters who grew up in his care. They certainly love him. I’ve seen how they look to him for guidance and lean on him when in need. However, I know now that for me, he is a stranger. I know of him, we have shared laughs, and in my search to connect with all the things that make me, me, we’ve shared tears. When it comes to him, there are certain things for which I am grateful. I love to sing, and I think the fact that I am not entirely tone-deaf comes from him (sorry mom). He contributed to guiding my faith along with some beautiful people (My Mother, Mrs. Doñez, Ethel Haltom, Jeffrey Frakes, and Scott Goltl). He gave me two sisters whom I love very very profoundly (but they get some credit too because they are fantastic). He is my father, and as candid as I may be in this post, I respect him. I will honor/love him for his position in my life. I will always respond if he needs me. He is a man who loves his God, imperfect, and this just happened to be where his imperfection shows. I learned from it, and I think that is the best he could hope for, given his absence.

My Step-Father:
I don’t know where to start with this guy. He is a piece of work, let me tell you. When it comes to my step-dad, I’ve always been a bit reserved, and I am only now realizing the injustice I am perpetuating by doing so. I admit that for me, there is a certain pang of guilt that comes when I know I have metered my impulses. When I want to call him Dad but instead use his name. When I want to call him to share something but don’t. When I want to go to his workshop and just learn from him, and I don’t. My internal dilemma with him stems from a couple of things:

Number one, he came into my life when I was sixteen. What this means is, I know him in ways my half-brother does not since he was out of the house by the time my step-dad entered the picture. So when we are at family functions, I get in my own head because my brother probably won’t ever call him that. I worry my brother would see me as just eager to bond to him because of the Dad-shaped void in our lives. I have always known my brother loves me, but he always acts like he needs no one, to the point that he can be a huge jerk to people who love him deeply. As if being loving and patient with us takes away from his accomplishments (which not to brag about him too much, are amazing). So I’m a moron because I want my brother to be as proud of me as he is of himself and I don’t want to show weakness. Hence injustice number one. I have known my step-dad for 21 years. This isn’t me being too eager, nor should the thoughts I assign to my brother matter. Shit, I don’t even know if he would see it that way or even care.

Number two, he has a lovely daughter with a beautiful family. To put it bluntly, I worry about straining his bond with his daughter. This is the stupidest one of all because his daughter isn’t shallow and is a grown-ass woman. Why in God’s name would someone appreciating her father make her jealous? It wouldn’t. However, I do think that I am not entitled to him. I can’t just plant a flag like I’m imperialist England and say, “Hear ye, this man is also my Dad.” I don’t even have a flag. Hence injustice number two. It’s not this complicated. I love him like a father. I already count on him, and he shows up. He is my bud, and we can get from zero to laughs faster than you can say, “What?”. I have observed and tried desperately to model his gift for appreciating what makes a person special. His work ethic. His warmness. I am a little cooler because of him and, damn it, I love him very much. As as a side note, my kids love him HARD. So there is that too.

My Father-in-Law:
My father-in-law is a great man. He comes from a long line of them, and I have learned so very much from his example. Outside of his own father, I’ve never known a man who has lost so many loved ones so quickly and survived his own brush with death. In the first ten years of knowing him, I watched him lose both his sisters, his mother, and his grandmother. I have witnessed him wake every morning at a STUPID hour and go to a job where he is both excellent and excellently underappreciated. I have seen the worry on his face about his son and how the miles between them makes it hard for him to help when needed, but he is as stoic as it gets. He could easily be mean and grumpy all the time. But he is not. He is the king of Dad jokes. THE KING. He is gentle and thoughtful. His laugh fills the room, and he wears his pride about his family, daughter, son, and grandkids on his face 24/7. He has given me the best advice about being a father, and it’s always timely and prudent in the sense that he seems to understand how I tick as a father. I try hard to be a source of learning for my kids as he is for his. To provide them the experience he and his wife were so careful to give their kids. To show and exhibit his patience and tolerance. I profoundly admire who he is.

My mother:
This is technically a Father’s Day post, and my mom gets Mother’s Day. Hey and listen, my mother is extraordinarily better than the average mom. Consider what this means because the average mom is a freaking superhero. However, I would be doing her a massive disservice if I didn’t acknowledge that for most of my life and that of my brother’s, she was both Mom and Dad. When the average mom can yell, “You need to talk to your son because I am at my wit’s end.” She couldn’t. She had to handle it and also find ways to bring us Dad jokes. Only really they were Mom jokes becasue she was never corny. She is freakin’ hilarious. I model so many parts of my mother’s parenting style. I do it differently than she does and with the benefit of the balance I get from having an outstanding co-parent in Cheryl. However, when I think about it, my mother in her role as my father pushed me as hard as any father does a son. She is my bud. She is the inventor of fun, and I love her more than you love your mom. (At least, that is what I want to think.)

Thank you, Dad, Step-Dad, Father-in-Law, and Mom. I respect, love, admire and am grateful for you.