Thursday, January 17, 2013

Solving the Nation's Problems, One Dad at a Time

Today I took Max to the “kindergym” at our local YMCA, as I have many times before. Long-timer readers of this blog may recall the Y’s kindergym as the setting for my brief series of “When Moms Attack” posts that chronicled issues I had there with a particularly annoying mother who found my style of play to be overly exuberant. But this is a post of a totally different flavor. (Although, I should share that a friend who happens to know said mother told me that her husband has filed for divorce and says she’s a total loon. Vindication!)

Rather than dwell on that unsavory confrontation, which led to my feeling like a child on timeout on subsequent kindergym visits, this time I’m happy to report on getting perhaps the greatest compliment I’ve ever received. I have to admit, I was on a roll with the boys today. As I played with Max and a particularly favored kindergym cohort of his, Kai, I was making good use of all the equipment and props to keep the boys laughing and running and coming back for more. Their favorite was when I picked up one of those nylon accordion tunnels kids like to crawl through, put it completely over me from head to toe, with the top end hanging in front of me, and walked around like a big tube monster trying to drop that open end over their heads. Much frivolity ensued.

All the while, there was this nicely dressed older woman with an SLR camera snapping shots throughout the room, and she had a special interest in documenting the interactions between me and the kids. (It turned out she was photographing the scene for a marketing push the Y is preparing to make.) I could tell she was enjoying the way I played (as were several of the moms standing by—shocking!), but I could not have been prepared for what she ended up saying to me. Amid a stream of gushing comments about my energy and willingness to invest the time with my kids, this nugget of praise just stopped me in my tracks:

“Oh, the troubles we could solve in this country if we put one of you in every home.”

Now, I surely don’t have to tell you that this is the kind of comment that can make a dad’s day. But it was especially welcome given that Sarah had just made an astute observation about what she perceives to be a hiccup in my parenting armor these days, namely that I seem to her to be emanating the aura of a man who feels “trapped” in the whole married-with-kids paradigm.

She’s right, to a degree. But it’s not as nefarious as she probably sometimes fears. In fact, I don’t know a father of little kids who doesn’t feel trapped on some level. Or a mom, for that matter. It’s the nature of the beast. Maybe Sarah just hasn’t gotten there yet—she’s only 3 years into this after all. I’ve been doing it for more than 20, including the years I spent step-parenting before Jackson was born.

There’s a huge difference between being a first-time parent (or even a second-time parent like Sarah who’s still pretty fresh to the whole parenting thing) and being a 20-year vet who’s been through the teen battles, the infant/toddler/preschool years, more teen battles, more infant-toddler/preschool years, and who STILL faces more toddler/preschool years and even more teen battles, and who will probably be 70 by the time all these kids are off on their own. (Good grief, after writing that sentence, I realize it’s a small miracle I haven’t been institutionalized.)

There’s also a huge difference between a person who remained kid-free and got to sew her wild oats throughout her 20s and most of her 30s, and a guy who wishes he’d been so smart but who stupidly traded in his wild oats in his mid-20s.

But none of this takes away from the love I feel for my boys, or the joy they cause me every single day. (We’ll conveniently leave the pain and suffering out of this conversation.) It is possible for a person to simultaneously live in a world of regret and joyous embracing. Believe me, I try to forget what I unwittingly gave up in exchange for my first marriage—international travels, a budding (but nowhere near lucrative enough) music career, years of slovenly Sunday afternoon football watching, and the women (!)—but it’s a tough load to free myself from.

What I’d love Sarah to understand is what a breath of fresh air she has been to me. No, I never envisioned having a second kid in my 40s—never mind a THIRD—and some days I look around and think to myself, what the hell have I done!? But I also know that my regrets a) have absolutely nothing to do with Sarah, and b) are impossible for her to address.

I think one of Louis C.K.’s routines about being a dad sums it up best, and I’m paraphrasing: “Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids more than I’ve ever loved anyone or anything. They give my life meaning. They make me love myself more, and they make me love other people more. I can’t imagine my life without them, and yet I rue every decision I ever made that led to their existence.”

If that doesn’t sum up parenting, I don’t know what does. And if any parents were to react with horror to that, suggesting that they could never feel that way, I'd be convinced they were either totally full of shit, were placed here by aliens, or were wealthy enough to have someone else do the hard work of raising their kids. And I bet that no one ever suggested that putting them in every home would solve the nation’s woes.

Yep, it’s a good day to be me. Gotta enjoy those when they come.


Note from Dad: This is the 50th A Dad Again post--a milestone that's been a long time in coming. Thanks so much for reading. Please keep coming back, and get your friends and family to check it out, too. Maybe one day this blog will actually have a real audience!

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