Dads. Without a doubt, a role I can only hope to think that I have an idea about. But I don’t really.
I listen to my husband when he talks about his day away from home and I will admit I used to be a little jealous. He was out in the world, interacting with other adults. He was doing things like riding to work without kids in the car fighting, or talking or asking to listen to Raffi sing the “Wheels on the Bus” or announcing that they needed to pee RIGHT NOW and they’ve always wanted to see a rest stop bathroom.
He was working, yes, and he had the responsibility of providing not just for himself but for three other people. That alone is heavy. And he is still doing it. The nights I couldn’t sleep and I was pumping or nursing (or sometimes both, what with the two hands and all…) I thought about him and what it must be like to be taking care of people who were having the worst and possibly last day of their lives and then coming home to his own family full of needs too. It couldn’t be easy.
There is a push towards parenting not becoming so sacrificial. I personally think the movement is inherently flawed. Not to nominate my martyrdom, but it’s been my experience that it’s all about sacrifice; time, money, personal hygiene, you name it. Moms, moms get a shout out. Everyone knows how hard it is for Moms. We go through pregnancy and labor (okay, so I labored for about two hours – but they were both intense before the epidural kicked in) and birth. Or, we try and try and try for those things and we don’t get them. But one way or another there is a baby in the end. Our baby. We became moms.
The first night in the hospital, as we sat wide eyed (in both amazement and terror)and I felt like something had changed. We were partners and friends and allies and PARENTS. I looked over at my husband scrunched up on a twin sized roll out, all six feet him curled up in neat folds and I believed in forever being something much more whimsical than a life sentence. He was in this with me forever.
When Big Sister was about two she developed a love for strawberries. They grow pretty easily in Florida and are usually available at a low cost. She ate them every day with each meal. She’d eat them as a snack. She’d have them in smoothies. We went through a lot of strawberries. Around the off season, her delight in them didn’t diminish. They doubled in price. Then they were a little more than double. Though he had already established many great Dad characteristics, my husband’s first real “Dad Move” happened here. He wouldn’t eat the strawberries. We weren’t on food stamps or in some sort of dire financial situation where this would be necessary to ensure that our daughter would be able to still have her fruit. He just wouldn’t do it. All of the other sacrifices he had made before I saw this one somehow had been muddied. I had known them, but I hadn’t seen them.
Moms will routinely get asked just “how we do it all”. How do we keep so many balls in the air? Very seldom do Dads get asked that. Traditionally, good Dads just do it. They go to work, they come home, play with the kids, fix all the stuff that broke when they were at work, cut the yard, figure out what needs tweaking, tend to that and get ready to go back to work, or to school or whatever else they’ve committed to. Collectively, we say, yes, of course, you know, he’s the Dad. He is the one to say no to the short shorts, the one who explains how to do a lay-up and why it’s important to know how to estimate in math. He can handle it when the kids cry I want Mommy, not you, right? Even if he’s been gone for 48 hours, he can handle it…Days go by or sometimes lifetimes without anyone asking them how they handle their role of being a working father or thanking them with something more than an insert-remote-control-or-beer-joke-here card on Father’s Day.
If I started writing a thank you note to him right now, this morning, it wouldn’t be finished at bed time. I fell in love with a guy who was hopeful and honest and searching, those things haven’t changed. But he has become so much more. He has his flaws, we all do, but he gives it his all every day. Despite the things he has seen, the sleep he has missed, the goals that he has that seem so far out of reach, he keeps going. He always has a hug for the kids and reminds them that they are loved and cherished.
When I am having a rough day and the kids are fighting off a cold and the dog is whining to go out and catch lizards in the rain and I have unintentionally disappointed someone somehow, I think of those strawberries. When I am down on myself about what I do or don’t contribute and what my worth should measure up to be, I think of the likely thousand dollars’ worth of strawberries my husband never ate. There are so many intangible ways that we grow into the roles of our lifetimes and I am better for having learned that from my husband. Great dads are like that.