Yesterday was my seventh Father’s Day as a father. It is only now that I think of myself (instead of my own Dad) when I hear the words “Father’s Day”. I don’t care much for cards or gifts, but my children bought a card anyway, a Star Wars-themed one. It was cute. I might or might not photograph it before putting it in the recycling bin.
More than anything, I spent the day reflecting on my performance as a father. I think, in a contest of fathers, worldwide, that I might finish in the top 40%. Maybe a bit higher, due to the whole stay-at-home thing, but I know I’ll never win Father Of The Year in any category. Fortunately, I don’t typically care how I rank against other people in categories like this (not that there’s any sensible way to rank anyone; it was just a figure of speech).
This year, I feel less ecstatic about fatherhood than I did in previous years (see links to older entries at bottom).
I do know I’m glad that I’m done changing diapers. I’ll be even more glad once my son’s “terrible twos” come to an end (he’s four now, and no end in sight). I’m glad neither of my children has any condition or circumstance that requires extraordinary efforts on my part. I have grave doubts about my ability to face the pressures that are a daily reality for many parents.
I’m glad we’re financially stable enough that I can stay home so neither of my children has ever had a babysitter or been dropped off at a day care (which many parents are now irritatingly calling “school”).
And I’m glad that I’m not (so far) the kind of person to make very serious errors in child-rearing — referring to things like driving into a lake or setting stuff on fire. Today, I’m less convinced that those people made choices, and more convinced that mental illness and/or personal weakness combined with uncontrollable circumstances to lead to horrible events.
I’m happy being sufficient at fatherhood. It’s better than being really bad at it. And being really good at it requires a personality bent that I just don’t have. I do my best, in my own way. My children get what they need, and much of what they want. I make moderate sacrifices for them, and they sometimes have to bend to my will. Most of us are happy, most of the time.
Ours isn’t a perfect life, which is fine. None of us expected it would be perfect. We have a lot of fun, like our recent Galveston vacation, or building with Legos, taking walks, playing with glowsticks in the dark, or reading books or drawing with markers. We have sad times too, when someone gets hurt or sick, or when one of us doesn’t get his or her way. We don’t always agree.
My goals as a father have seen serious curbs in recent years. The worst it ever got, I think, was about five years ago when I defined my only life goal as: “Get a full night’s sleep. Just once.” Eventually, that happened, and I re-expanded my goals to include teaching and/or entertaining the children each day. At some point, I re-added the goal of keeping the house relatively clean.
I freely admit that when my oldest went to school for the first time, that it was a relief for me. I coasted a bit, having only one at home most days.
Fatherhood hasn’t only changed my goals. It’s changed my heroes. Before having children, I admired inventors, writers, sports stars, musicians, historic military heroes, or successful business persons — like most men, I suppose. Now? Now my heroes are single parents. I can’t imagine. If you are a single parent, and you’re not yet insane, then you are my hero. I won’t even ask “how do you do it?”, because I won’t believe your answer. I believe the true answer is that you have some special spark I don’t have.
On a very slightly lesser level, I also hold as heroes all those women through the centuries who raised children (very often too many children at the expense of their own health) for men who were far too busy to get involved. Those women did only what was expected of them, but what was expected of them was massive. And that so many of them succeeded — while their men pranced around the world shooting things, painting things, stacking stones on top of each other, holding conferences, tallying figures, and somehow also taking credit for their children — is a tribute to every one of them that attempted.
School teachers are another level of hero, not much lower than the first two. For every one that makes the local paper for some misdeed, there are hundreds you’ve never heard of who are patiently instructing, finding creative ways to make learning happen with our unruly, uncooperative, and woefully unprepared children.
In addition to changing my goals and changing my list of heroes, several years of fatherhood has changed how I think about time, how I plan each day, and what I think is important. It’s changed my behavior as well, and how I perceive my own behaviors.
When I ask one of my children: “Why did you do that?” and the answer begins: “Because you…”, it gives me pause in a way that nothing else could have done before. No other adult has been present in my children’s lives as often as I have, and that will likely be true at least until they reach adulthood. I am their visible incarnation of adulthood, maturity, and the grown-up world as a whole. This is a very sobering thought, and the one with which I’ll close.
If you are a parent, the same is true for you. If you are an adult in any child’s life — a niece or nephew, a student, a neighbor — they are watching you, even when neither of you realize it. You are helping them form their conception of the world, whether correct or not. Like it or not, they will interact with the world at least partly based on your behavior and attitude.
I can be better. I will be better.
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