I was recently pitching a producer several ideas when they stopped me and asked which creation I was most proud of. Without a moments hesitation I said, “My daughter”. All jests aside, my response was true. I was the stay at home dad from when my daughter T was 3 months old until she was 2 ½ and started preschool. I’ve often referred to this time as “the hardest job I never quit”.
That first month as I struggled as 37 year old man to figure out what a 3 month old baby needs, I experienced frustration like never before in my life. Looking back I now see part of my frustration came from not being able to control the situation. That and not having breasts, which would have helped immensely at the time. However, after a month of figuring out bottles, diapers, strollers, car seats and park locations I began to get my dad groove on. A few more months later and I was offering sage advice to moms with newborns in the checkout isle. “You may want to try the rice cereal instead, the wheat tend to bung them up.”
During my now 4 ½ years as a dad I’ve learned a level of patience I’d never previously known. Some of this has come from the hours of drawing, painting, reading, putting dolls to sleep, waking dolls up, changing dolls, giving dolls medical exams etc, etc. and, some has come through quiet observation of this wonderful early phase of development. What people don’t tell you when you have a child is that you’ll have the opportunity to see many things again for the first time through your child’s eyes. For me, this has been one of the greatest joys of parenthood.
As my girl has gotten older, she’s already begun the process of “going away”, which is what every child ultimately ends up doing. Until, of course, they come back years later to live in your basement. This “going away” or going out into the world is a delicate dance between child and parent and I would argue a unique one between a father and daughter. I’ve learned that my job is to be there when she comes back, listen to her stories, hear the details of her adventures, and offer her love, support and a haven until she “goes away” again. I call it “loving limits” and I use this philosophy to guide me. I strive to act as a shepherd not a sculpture as I raise my girl, listening closely to her desires, tastes, interests, and fears. If I set a limit, it’s usually for safety, but I always take care to not impede the exploration that’s necessary for a human being to grow.
At this point in my life I’ve met many, many women who’s fathers simply weren’t there, or didn’t get ‘the dance’ and instead parented with an iron fist, tending to cause more chaos than if they’d led with love. I take great pride in working to give my little girl an example of a good man. Someone who cares not only about her, but about all people in the world. Someone who respects her, her body and her mind. If I can leave behind a strong, confident and caring woman when I die I’ll truly feel I’ve made some difference in the world.
This coming Father’s Day will be a strange one for me as it will be the last one before I start celebrating ‘Single Father’s Day’. After 16 years together my wife and I will be going separate ways. Knowing my daughter won’t have this traditional ‘family’ grieves me, and yet, leaving that relationship after having made this incredible child softens the blow in a bittersweet way. I will continue to both teach and learn from my daughter as I go through my life, proudly wearing the title, “Papa”.
This Father’s Day I would offer a challenge to all fathers out there, new and old: man up. Be there for your kids in a real and meaningful way. Learn new things from them, let any hardness be softened, even a little. Allow yourself to see through their eyes and let your own cynicism fade away. It IS a hard life, no doubt, but it’s also a joyous one with a true hope springing eternal in each and every child.