I caught the movie “Kramer vs. Kramer” the other day. I first saw the movie when I was a young teen in the 1970’s, too young to really understand its significance at the time. Now though, as a single adoptive father deep in the throes of parenthood, I found Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of single parenting particularly riveting. Though entirely my desire and choice and with much preparation beforehand, it was also a shock for me to essentially wake up that first morning suddenly a single father, solely responsible for the life of a child – although make that a pair for me, nine- and twelve-year-old brothers at the time.
There’s an early scene in the movie depicting the morning after his wife left him, when Hoffman’s character botches breakfast. This scene echoes with the pervading societal views of a father’s ineptness in care-taking. Set in 1979, it was interesting to see Hoffman’s Ted repeatedly face the narrow-minded perceptions of a father’s role in caring for his children.
All these years later, such perceptions have not necessarily changed that much. I have encountered much narrow-mindedness with each metaphorical slam of the door in seeking to adopt a child as a single father. As much as I coveted fatherhood in all its idealistic glory, the most poignant scene for me was when Ted threw (well, tossed) his son into bed out of frustration over the boy’s unrelenting defiance, unabashedly answering, “I’m all you’ve got!” to his son’s pleas for his mother. Good, bad, or indifferent, I too am all my sons have.
Although perhaps it’s my own self-consciousness, my role as nurturer is still sometimes shaken in comparison to societal stereotypes favoring the mother in child rearing. The movie plays out over the better part of a year as Ted transforms from insecure and uncertain about his role as a forced-upon full-time single parent to one who is in charge, secure, confident, and absolutely committed to his son. This could not have been illuminated more beautifully than in the scene when his son is supposed to return to live with his mother, as ruled by the courts nearly a year later. Watching Ted and his son prepare breakfast together, and how father and son now seamlessly work together in a way that conveyed their sense of belonging to one another, was a sight to behold.
I vividly recall being in awe at our first anniversary together as a family as I looked at where I had started only a year ago. Like Ted, I became much more open to life as it was, rather than what I thought it should be. In so doing, I’ve become a better adoptive parent – one who is more in tune to and better able to meet my sons’ needs.
Our relationship together as father and sons continues to deepen over the years. Fatherhood encompasses my every being in ways I’d never really thought about before becoming a parent. Parenting single-handedly actually enhances my fatherly role exponentially, as in actuality I am all I’ve got. Along the way, I found out just how much there is of me to give. Society, in turn, also better recognizes my ability to parent and nurtures my sons’ innate goodness as they mature and set out to make their mark in this world, when previously for them, that wasn’t even a possibility.