As I sit down to write this, it is the evening of my son’s fourth birthday. This means it is also the fourth anniversary of the day I became Daddy. My dadiversary. I hate a little bit to admit it, but I realize that this also means that my son’s birthday will always mean a bit more to me than my daughter’s. When she turns two in a week and a half, I know that I will look at the little girl running and jumping and talking where my baby used to be and wonder where the time went, just as I did today when my 4 year-old sat down and played his new drum set, or when he informed his grandparents that apples and bananas both grow on trees, but bananas, like coconuts, grow on palm trees. But tonight I know I will lay down in bed with my wife and marvel that we have been doing this parenting thing for four whole years already. Really, where has the time gone?
Four years ago, my wife had a very rough day. We got to the hospital early for inducement. I’ll spare the details, but it was around 8:00 in the evening, after 12 hours of labor, when the doctor came in and said, “Well, it looks like the baby is probably too big to fit into the birth canal. We can give it a couple more hours and see, or we can get you into an OR for a c-section.” My wife, who is amazing by the way, looked that poor man straight in the soul and roared in that quiet way that only a woman who is absolutely at the end of her patience really can, “Cut. It. Out.”
And so it was that by the time our firstborn was brought into this world, his mother was so exhausted, half-starved, and doped up that she fell quickly into a sleep so deep they would not release us to a room for fear she might slip into a coma or something. (This is all completely true, by the way. They were so vague about what was going on, I worried she might actually die that night. I may have been a bit emotional.) So they brought me my son, this chubby little miracle our love had wrought, and I sat for an hour, maybe two, who knows, and just stared into this face that was so brand new yet felt so much a part of me that I’d have sworn I’d known its owner my whole life, not just his.
In those quiet hours, a strange and incredible thing happened as I at once felt my heart grow in my chest and felt it leave me entirely and alight in the tiny person resting in my hands. He didn’t cry or fuss, nor did he sleep. He just stared at me quietly and took complete ownership of my heart.
I took two days off work when my son was born, then went back for two days, then began summer vacation. This allowed me to focus entirely on being a parent, and it deepened the bond between my son and me. The following summer even more so.
After his first birthday I bought a kiddie pool and plopped it out on the deck. We spent the summer splashing and reading books. We enjoyed each other’s company. Momma was working, then, so it was just the two of us most of the time. This was really when he stopped being the baby and started being my buddy.
I recently read a few responses to a social media poll asking, Should you be friends with your kids? As you might expect, responses were varied. For my part, I can’t separate the role of parent from the role of playmate and companion. My boy makes me laugh every day, but lately he also tries my patience every day. I have always loved taking him out with me, both for the company and for the chance to grab whatever teachable moments may arise. Before we moved, we kept a weekly ritual of going to Whole Foods on Sunday morning, eating breakfast together, then shopping. More recently, I have–as previously discussed–taken him to Guitar Center with me. Then, of course, there are the playgrounds, the beach, zoo, aquarium, science center trips, the days out designed for his pleasure and enrichment.
That, to me, is what being Daddy has always been. And what hits me harder than anything as my buddy turns four is how much has changed this past year. When little sister first arrived I was on summer break again, and it was the best thing for everybody if I kept the boy busy most of the time while Momma took care of the baby and healed from the c-section and the back surgery that came right on its heels. Sandbox, sprinkler, baby pool, playground, toy trucks. We stayed busy, my buddy and me.
But this year–it’s been rough. The stress of moving (three times, but who’s counting), of Li’l Boo’s allergies and eating issues, of changing from teaching high school seniors and juniors to mostly unsuccessfully managing 8th graders–it’s taken a toll. When I get home in the afternoons, I’m tired, my patience is shot, and I have to find a way to spread myself between two toddlers who I spend all day wanting to escape to and all evening wanting to escape from. I don’t have the physical or mental energy for the games my son wants to play, or for the way he acts up if I take my attention off him to try and be a father to his sister, or a husband to his mother. And what really makes it tough is that I don’t have the patience for a lot of very typical toddler behaviors because they seem way too much like the behaviors I deal with from thirteen and fourteen year-old students all day.
That sounds harsh, but I didn’t start this blog to try and convince anyone that I’m a perfect parent. I did it to reflect on some of the ways I often feel like a perfectly crappy parent, to bring myself face to face with the things in my life that keep me from the thing that is most important to me–being Daddy.
So here I am, moving into the year of four and two years old, with another long summer vacation just eighteen days away (but who’s counting), and although I wasn’t sure where this post was going when I started, it seems most appropriate now to end it with a resolution: I resolve that in this year of four and two, I will remember the Daddy I was and the Daddy I want to be. I will laugh more and yell less, encourage more, teach more, and work every day to be the model of the kind of person I want my children to grow into: patient, kind, and considerate; fun, joyful, and loving; curious, hard-working, and reflective. And hopefully, this time next year I’ll be writing a very different blog.