Charlie Chapen is leaning in.

Charlie Capen

Digital Strategist & Writer

Los Angeles, CA

Dad’s absence in my life made me question everything from a father’s true role to the definition of masculinity.

The story of my life is a kind of distorted echo of my own father’s story.

He was a radio personality as well as a published, freelance writer. At a certain point, his self-imposed, perpetual feeling of mediocrity about his life’s work became a singular hallmark to all of his endeavors, personally and professionally.

Sounds familiar.

My pop’s self-resistance ultimately meant some negative lifestyle choices including, though not limited to, addictions and disengagement from his children. He leaned back. He voted in absentia as a parent and it forced my courageous mother, who would go on to become one of the “Top 25 Women in Radio” by Radio Ink, to raise two boys on her own.

Dad’s absence in my life made me question everything from a father’s true role to the definition of masculinity. Unlike my pop’s path, however, my journey only began to make real sense to me when I became a father.

My father passed away from lung cancer on September 12th, 2005; he waited for us to arrive so we could say goodbye. Sitting on his porch at the witching hour following his departure, I realized I never got the chance to ask him about being a parent or what he would’ve done differently.

Four years later, when my wife showed me the double lines on her pregnancy test, I felt a quickening inside. Something catalyzed. I knew I wanted to give my child all I had. So, I started writing to my son and recording video journals for him. I wanted to provide him with my thoughts about all of the unanswered questions I had for my father so he would have an arsenal of information when I was gone.

But in that decision to journal my life as a parent came the realization that I wanted to be the kind of father I would’ve wanted. I wanted to invest myself in all of the duties — and that conclusion sure has paid emotional dividends.

Now, I’ve turned my passion and dedication to fatherhood into the thing that helps my wife and me sustain our family. I’m a paid digital storyteller whose love of technology and creating relatable experiences has earned me a job at 20th Century Fox as Director of Online Engagement. My own website reaches hundreds of thousands of people looking for humor and relief from the stress of being a parent. I often wonder had my dad come to my website, if it would’ve helped him be more present. Maybe he just needed someone to reflect his pain, or lack of confidence, so he could keep going?

Fatherhood hasn’t been the frame for my growth. It’s been the lens, the subject and the photographer. It’s taught me about my humanity and pointed up my faults in ways I didn’t expect. But I couldn’t have learned anything about myself, my son, my parents, or the world around me, unless I’d leaned into the experience.

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