PUBLISHED ORIGINALLY ONLINE at LancasterOnline.com / June 18, 2017
The first words our first child heard were my wife’s. In the middle of a C-section, she called out, “Get a chair! My husband’s goin’ down!”
After regaining my senses, I was able to shake off this utter failure in my first test of fatherhood because I was to be the stay-at-home parent. I’d have plenty of chances to redeem myself.
That said, there were challenges and moments of insecurity. As much progress as we’ve made regarding gender roles, the stay-at-home father remains an oddity.
Some think you no longer have a “real” job. While they talk about work, you offer a detailed primer on the finer points of changing one child’s diaper before the other crawls off the bed or in the general direction of a deep body of water. Talk about the pressures of a real job!
And on more than one occasion — while standing in line at the grocery store with one child precariously “surfing” on the seat of the cart and the other safely “caged” but wreaking havoc with the groceries — a grandmotherly type would remark, “Oh, how nice. You’re baby-sitting.”
My response? “It’s called parenting.”
Another challenge was maintaining fatherhood self-esteem in the face of Supermoms. Supermoms have everything under control — always on time, kids impeccably dressed, lunches nutritionally balanced, diaper bag fully outfitted, all of it color coordinated, including a Ziploc bag of freshly baked snacktime cookies for their child’s entire class.
“How do they do it?” I’d wonder. It was enough to make any father feel inadequate as a mother.
Then there were the weekly play groups, in which stay-at-home parents would meet, children in tow, for coffee, snacks and some adult conversation. Always with wonderful spreads of food — symmetrically sliced fruit and a wide selection of breakfast items, often including three types of quiche, all in a spotlessly organized house. My menu consisted of two items — coffee and frozen pizza.
Fatherhood entails a lot of doubts and second-guessing. Often, there are no right answers. You do your best and move on. But I never once doubted that pizza-centered menu because being able to creatively doctor up and cook to perfection a frozen pizza is an essential parenting skill. And it’s a skill that keeps on giving, as your children don’t fully appreciate it until they are teenagers.
Fatherhood also provides countless moments of joy.
Dropping them off at school comes to mind. There is great joy in cranking up Little Feat’s “Fat Man in the Bathtub” as I approach and slowly make my way through “car line.” Windows down, volume up, van rockin’ and everyone singing. All at 8 a.m.! As they exited the van fully jazzed up and bouncing off the walls, I’d wave and say, “They’re yours now. Back at 3. Good luck.”
Fatherhood taps into your every emotion — from intense heartache when your 7-year-old is retching into the toilet due to the flu and all you can offer are comforting words and a cold, wet washcloth pressed to her forehead — to bursting pride when your son does something thoughtful and kind for a complete stranger. And there is tremendous pleasure when you realize your daughter’s guitar skills have far surpassed your own and, in her sly way, she let’s you know it.
There are bittersweet tears when they go off to college, and you realize they’re grown up. But there is also great satisfaction when you begin to see the lessons you’ve taught come to fruition.
Ultimately, that’s what fatherhood is about — giving them the tools and instilling in them the values and perspective to make their own way in the world. While it’s difficult letting them go, ultimately it is their life to live.
And it happens so fast. One day you are passing out in the operating room, and the next day your son is not only beating you in H-O-R-S-E but trash-talking as he does it!
There is, however, comfort in knowing that fatherhood is constant and forever. Once a father, always a father, no matter where you are or at whatever stage of life you may find yourself.
Yes, there is nothing more difficult than being a father. But there is nothing better.
That’s why whenever you see kids giving their father a hard time, get their attention, point your finger and say, “Look at him. He’s your father. You only have one. Take care of him!”
Because every day is Father’s Day.