Parenting Guru: How My Deadbeat Dad Made Me a Better Father

Sometimes, the Hardest Things Help Us in the End

I barely remember my dad being around.

Mostly because he wasn't around, I guess.

From the time I was a baby until the time I was 7 or 8, my little brother and I would wake up for school and he would be gone, off to work. Then in the evening, when we were in our pajamas and our little heads were damp shampooed nests, we'd sit in front of the TV just before bed and in would come my dad. Our dad.


We didn't have to check and see; we knew what was what. We ran over to him to give him the same kind of welcome home hugs and kisses that lots of kids throw at their dads the moment they walk through the evening door, but mixed in with the scent of sawdust and cigarettes was always that bold, nasty whiff of booze.

Then one day when I was nine or so, my mom took my brother and me by the hand, bundled us up in our snowboots and winter gear, and marched us out into a blizzard for the long walk around the corner to my grandparent's house. And that was that. We never lived with my dad again.

A year or so later, he and his girlfriend were forced by the courts to move out of the home his kids had been born in.

I saw him two or three more times after that, afternoons at a distant house he was renting.

And then, without any fuss at all, he disappeared for 25 years.


I lived a lot of life while my dad was gone.

He never saw me play third base for my Little League team; he never talked me down out of a tree after I struck out four times in one game. At 12, when I began to get fanatically interested in fishing (something he had loved), he was nowhere to be found. I would have loved to go with him and learn how to catch bass with him, but the truth is, at that point I didn't even know if he was alive or not.

Years came and went and I had a few girlfriends that he never met. I went to college and he had no clue. I flunked out and he might have been in outer space for all I knew.

I joined a band with my brother and traveled all over the country and to Europe and made it on to the TV and into magazines and worked really hard to make something of myself, something people who knew me and loved me could be proud of.

But by that time I had forgotten his voice, what it even sounded like.

As far as I was concerned, I only had one parent in this world, my mom, who had run the long hard race alone.


One day when I was 36 my wife Monica handed me a new copy of What To Expect When You're Expecting with a positive pregnancy test as a bookmark.

It took me a second to figure it out. Duh.

And then I cried.

I mean, who wouldn't, really?

It was the greatest event of my life and so many things went through my mind in those dizzying moments that followed, but the very first thing I remember saying to myself was that I would never do what my own dad did. I would never be like him. Nothing, I swore on my guts, NOTHING would ever keep me away from being with my baby, with my child.

There would be no excuses when it came to fatherhood.

I might trip and fail trying other things but when it came to being a dad, there would be no reasons why I couldn't be around. I was militant about it, I guess. But I think it was because, for the first time in my life, I had to allow myself to feel the hurt you feel when you finally realize that one of your parents just hadn't really cared much.

I had to promise myself that the pain stopped with me, forever.

And that is a promise that I have kept so far, with Violet, age 4, and Henry, who is 2. And guess what?

It's been incredibly easy to do, to love them and be there with them every step of the way.

Just really, really easy.

And I know exactly why.

Serge Bielanko is proud to be a Shine Parenting Guru. He can also be found writing all about the ups/downs/joys/and blues of being a dad at and on his own blog, Thunder Pie.