I guess the fatherhood bar was set low for me to start with.
From the time I was around 9 years old, my own father was gone from my life, disappearing into the night, not to be heard from again for the next two decades. So becoming a dad myself, I had very little to go on, really. I only knew the worst case scenario. And I only knew I wanted to be the opposite of that.
But now, with three kids of my own — ages 6, 4, and 1 — I find myself struggling at times with measuring up to my own high expectations. It would be easy for me to say, “Well, I’m doing better than MY dad ever did,” but that wouldn’t really be saying much …
The problem is: I want to be the very best father humanly possible for Violet, Henry, and Charlie. I want to ooze magic and reek of love. I want them to take one look at me first thing in the morning and see their eyeballs shoot sparks of affection across the kitchen table.
And yet, almost anyone can tell you that isn’t how parenting goes. So where do I find the inner peace I’m craving? I’m haunted by the years I spent without a father; I want so badly to do everything right as a dad and then when things don’t go right — common things, regular stuff — I come down hard on myself.
If I have to holler at my kids sometimes (a lot of times!), I feel lingering guilt that hangs around at the corners of Conscience and Cool. I have long talks with myself about always handling every, single situation that arises with my kids with my own modern version of glorified Zen, but then something really does happen and I panic.
Someone pulls someone’s hair or I burn the dinner while I’m trying to change a diaper, and I end up getting panicked and overreacting or feeling as if I must be doing something really wrong for all this chaos to be unfolding around me.
I’m being kind of crazy — I know, I know.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been divorced nine months now and I only get to have my three kids for half of every week. That isn’t enough time! It isn’t fair! I want to have them in my arms, in my eyeballs, 24/7. What good dad wouldn’t?!
On the other hand, by the time they’re ready to head back to their mom’s, well, I’m exhausted, a shell of the chipper dude I was when they banged through the back-screen door three or four days ago. Then the very fact that a part of me is so ready for a break makes me wonder if I’m doing my best or not. If I’m being the dad I want to be, how in the world could I ever be ready for them to leave me?
It’s so confusing. I get so confused.
Still, deep inside of me somewhere there is a tiny voice of reason, and I thank the universe for that. Whenever I’m starting to dig too deep down through the layers of my own psychobabble, questioning my worth as their daddy and wondering why I can’t be perfect all the time (or ever, to be honest), I hear the voice calling out to me from downstairs in my gut:
“Relax, man! You’re doing okay. You’re doing it right.”
“How do I know though?” I say back.
“Because, Daddy-O! Look at those kids sleeping there on your bed, their bellies full of noodles, their heads full of crazy-cool dreams!”
“Yeah, I see them,” I respond.
“Well then that’s all you NEED to see, pops. Those kids of yours, they’re doing fine. And that means YOU’RE doing fine, too! So lay off the whole ideal thing for a while. Nobody is way out ahead of you when it comes to all this fathering stuff. So you’re financially strapped and not as patient as you’d like at times and you are guilty as heck of not always cooking homemade meals at supper time … so what?! That’s what being a dad is all about! You have to cut corners and fall on your face, bud. You simply have to want to do better, man … and right then you’ll know you’re already doing the very best that you can.”
And that’s enough for me. I smile a little smile, let out a built-up sigh, and kiss all three of them on their freshly washed sleepy heads.
I’m the dad I want to be just by being the dad that I already am.
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