They Are Always Watching Me
I noticed my four-year-old with her thumb in her mouth. I said, "Aren't you a little old to be sucking your thumb?" She replied, "I not sucking my thumb. I cleaning my face like a cat." And then she proceeded to wipe spit all over her nose, cheeks, and forehead. Well, okay... Just as long as she doesn't start using the litterbox. I write things like this down so that we can have a good laugh about it when she's grown up. Sharing good memories is one of my favorite pastimes. If only I had more people to do it with. Most of my friends and family profess to having Swiss-cheese memories, but I think that's just an excuse to avoid dredging up any bad times they may have had. In my life I've had pain, disappointment and plain bad luck, and I'm not afraid of letting those ghosts out for some fresh air. Remembering the past can sometimes be the best way of figuring out the future for myself and my family.
Satchel Paige said, "Don't look back, something might be gaining on you." Well, if something from my past is coming to get me, I'll just talk it to death. At seven years of age, my son is already an old hand at rolling his eyes and commenting, "Daddy's telling another one of his stories!" Regardless, I think my kids enjoy hearing about my past. And hopefully they learn a little something about life and how to live it. I didn't get that from my own dad. He was, and still is, reluctant to talk about anything much past yesterday afternoon.
So I regale my kids with stories from my youth, with only slight embellishment for dramatic effect. I tell them about my brief reign as tetherball champion of the second grade, and about the time I got conked in the head by a painting during an earthquake. They also know that I was "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs" as a kid and loved to build Lego mazes for my hamster. And that the very first song I ever remember hearing was "Hey Jude" and it's still my favorite song of all time. They've also heard my sad memories, like when I saw my brother lying in his casket, I touched his hand and stared at his face hoping that it wasn't really him in there, and how my dad never comforted me during that time or ever spoke about it afterward. And how lemon cake still brings back uneasy memories of the reception after the funeral.
My kids are getting a clear and honest picture of who I was and who I am right now. They also understand the value of open lines of communication between family members. Hopefully they'll remember that when they become teenagers. So I had nobody telling me what to expect in life, which was a lot of fun during my own teen years. A friendly male voice of experience would've been most welcome during those times, but unfortunately I had no role models around. My dad left us, my brother died, there were no grandfathers, uncles or cousins nearby... No teacher took me under his wing, our pastor was a womanizer who eventually divorced and left the church... It goes on and on. The few men in my life were neutral influences at best.
Which is probably why I want to be such a strong presence in my kids' lives. They'll never have to wonder why there were no positive male influences around them. I know I won't be the only one, but I will be the best one. I want to be my kids' hero. Nothing else matters... It's the foremost thought in my mind as I teach and guide my children through to adulthood. They are always watching me, learning from my actions, listening to my words. It's a monumental responsibility, one which some men shirk from too easily. But it's worth doing, and the payoff is immense.
Being a good dad is not complex. You just have to choose to wrap your mind around the idea that your family is more important than your career or your hobbies or your friends. There's nothing better you can do for you kids than to become their protector. There is no paycheck or promotion for doing this, and you will not receive accolades and awards from the community at large, but every now and then you might just get a little pat on the back when you least expect it.
I was at my son's school recently, checking in at the front desk, when a teacher's aide recognized me and yelled to everyone in the office, "That is a true dad!" My first reaction was to give her a deer-caught-in-theheadlights look because, quite frankly, I am not accustomed to positive comments about my situation as a stay-at-home dad. I must have looked thoroughly confused because she came over and said, "That was a compliment," to which I mumbled something like "I do what I can."
It wasn't until a few days later that I began to feel really good about it. Those two words keep popping up in my head: true dad...I like that label. It's so much more refreshing than some of the other things I've heard from friends and family over the past few years. In fact, I've rarely been complimented for my choice to be a stay-at-home dad. And by rarely, I mean not at all. But it only took one person to say two little words to put me on top of the world for a short time. If you have a chance to compliment a stay-at-home dad (or a stay-at-home mom), don't hesitate to do it. You'll give them a really good memory to share with their kids.