#302 In which our hero writes his yearly letter to his father.
It’s Father’s Day. This year, I’m struck by how laissez-faire I am about the holiday. But then again, this is my seventh year as a father, so I suppose the novelty is wearing off. On my first Father’s Day (as a father) The Scientist made little girl footprints in paint on a piece of construction paper alongside a poem she wrote for me, as if written by my then 7-month-old daughter. I was so overwhelmed by the whole thing that I cried.
Seven years later I still appreciate having a day to recognize me as a father, but I’m not nearly as wrapped up in it. I know there are cards coming, because I saw them quickly secreted from backpacks up to the girls’ rooms, the entire time Lily and Macey saying, “Daddy, don’t look!” It’ll be sweet when they give them to me (if they can remember where they hid the cards) and I’ll hug them and kiss them all over… but that amazing and humbling emotion of “wow! I’m a dad!” is long gone.
My first thought is that I’ve finally settled into my role as a father, that I have it figured out. But just as quickly I realize what bullshit that idea is. You never get used to it, you never figure it out, not really. Because just as soon as I learn how to deal with a cranky 2-year-old, then she’s three, with an entirely different set of behaviors to deal with. You might think that I could use this learning to deal with daughter #2, who’s 18 months younger after all… but no. Macey is such a different child than Lily that it takes an entirely different strategy to deal with her.
So I’m constantly figuring out how to address whatever is foremost in my kids’ life at the moment… from best friends to time on the computer to the toy they absolutely MUST have. I’ve realized that I’ll NEVER figure this job called “parenting” out, not completely. It’s the nature of the job that it’s always changing, always evolving.
And I wonder if you ever figured it out.
You certainly had more experience that I. And not just because you had four kids who were considerably more spread out then mine. As a teacher and principal it was your day job to deal with kids. Maybe that accumulated knowledge gave you a leg up so you could anticipate the next stage of your own kids, that you were never blindsided by screaming fits or broken hearts.
Last weekend I came into Lily’s room, where both girls were sleeping (they insist on sleeping in the same room on weekends; I wonder how much longer this sisterly love will last?), both of them with various limbs sprawled, half under the covers and half out, and a weird thought came into my head unbidden:
I must protect these girls.
I don’t know where this thought came from, other than the fact that it’s always there, rattling around in the back of my head. I want these girls to grow up to be confident, well-adjusted, even bold woman, so I’m always balancing giving them a long leash to make their own mistakes and carve out their own victories without hovering over them, to make sure they are shielded from any possible harm.
And, being that they’re only six and seven, I know the real challenges are yet to come. Dating, cars, sex… ugh, I don’t really want to think about it. Not yet.
I’d love to ask your advice. Ask how you did it with my three sisters. How you dealt with late nights, questionable boyfriends, overnight trips… and all this before the age of cell phones. Because my kids will have phones, giving me the power to check in with them at any time, and even track their location with built-in GPS. And I will.
But, still, I hope to instill in them the sense to make good decisions, so I don’t have to constantly call them or surreptitiously keep tabs on where they are.
Time will tell.
Then again, I don’t really need to wonder what you did, because I already know. You worried. You stayed up late and fretted. Because you did the same with me. If I told you I would be home by 8 o’clock, and didn’t make it in until 10, you were on high alert for those two hours. I couldn’t comprehend, at the time, why you would give me so much shit about it. I mean, two hours? What’s the big deal?
Now I understand.
It was your job, as our father, to protect us. Even when you were giving us as much freedom as you could stand, optimistic in the notion that you taught us to make smart decisions, you worried.
Just like I’ll worry.
So I guess I don’t really need to ask your advice, because I already know the answer. But I would love to swap stories with you.
I miss you, Dad.