When I was growing up, I thought that uncles were the ones you roughhoused with. The ones who invented games like Basement Frisbee and took you for scary drives through cemeteries. Who gave you your first beer as a reward for helping them pull weeds from the cracks in the sidewalk. They were fun.
From where I sat, fathers just fixed things like walls and toilets and cars. They worked their asses off in places they hated so you wouldn’t have to work your ass off in a place you hated. And sometimes they had to bring a hammer to fix a stranger who chased you out of a store and into traffic over a $2 lock. They ceded their place of fun to your uncle so they could do the real work of supporting you.
As a kid, I accepted all of this. As I got older I began to question it. The way it was wasn’t the way it always had to be. When my own fatherhood became something I seriously considered, I developed the resolve to change things. I would be all the best of my dad and more. I would be more than just a relentless work machine, provider, and protector. I would be selfless and fun.
Then I became a dad. At the time, I was a student so I was home a LOT. The first two and a half years of Ian’s life I was there doing everything—changing diapers, comforting, playing, feeding—the only thing I didn’t do was breastfeed. Because these nipples is dryyyyyyyyy.
I thought for sure that it was the beginning of a new era in fatherhood. At least in my family. My kids would call for their daddy just as often as, or maybe even more than, they called for their mom.
When shit got real, it was “MOOOOOOOOOM!” Even when Mooooooooom had nothing left to give. Even when she was exhausted from being up all night. Even when Ian was too young to even say Mooooooooom and she was recovering from being gutted to birth him. In those moments when Jill felt that she couldn’t give anything more, I’d do everything I could to be the one to soothe the baby—but even though I spent more time with him, and more fun time with him, he still wanted mama when he was sick or tired or cranky or hungry.
Which means that Jill was there for all of his worst. When he worked himself into a froth because any reason and daddy wouldn’t do and he was at his lowest, he’d need momma. But motherhood comes with immeasurable rewards, right? Maybe. That remains to be seen. Right now they take and take and sometimes it seems the only thing they give back are tantrums or squabbles or demands.
I’ve come to realize that if you want praise in parenthood you need to have patience. You need to play the long game. Sure, there are moments that are irreplaceable, when they give you a spontaneous hug for no reason, but they’re short-lived and far-between. Praise and real appreciation may be years away. You might not get any true understanding for all you do until you’re a grandparent.
Unless you work. For the working professional, there are promotions and raises to reinforce your worth. It’s much easier to feel like you’ve accomplished something and that satisfaction is more immediate. It can be as simple as a presentation to a client that goes over well or an industry award or a blog post from a random person raving about your work. There are countless moments of affirmation. The very fact that you regularly receive paychecks is encouragement enough. While at home, the only indications of progress are loads and loads of shit-packed diapers. So much shit.
I reflect on all of this stuff, trying to find justification for my place of honor. And I ask myself what the hell is my Father’s Day for?
I’m a hands-on Dad but I wasn’t able to change the dynamic: my kids still need their mom more than me. I can leave every day for 10 hours a day with a don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-in-the-ass-on-the-way-out look from my kids. But when Jill tries to run to the store, for 40 minutes, after being with the kids allllll day, she has to shake someone from her leg to get out the door.
And I don’t really need the praise. I get recognition at work. And at home I get my kids at their best. My time with them contains a high percentage of laughter. I chase them, tickle them, play video games, swim, climb, and hike with them. While Jill watches. From behind her exhaustion. Unable to fully process the laughter because her brain is reduced to serving only life-sustaining functions.
I guess what I’m saying is that I’ll happily cede my Father’s Day honor to all of the moms who work their asses of for no immediate praise. I’ve got it good being a dad everyday.
Besides, my dad taught me quite a lot about sacrifice. Maybe instead of trying to improve on everything he did, I should have spent a little more time embracing.
If my dad’s up there fishing with Jesus, I hope he doesn’t catch a bullhead. Because he’s going to have to ask THE SON OF GOD to take it off the hook for him.