I have really fun memories of my Dad coming to eat lunch with me at Lincoln Elementary. He would sit with me and my little girl friends and make us laugh for the whole lunch hour.
One day we were talking about what kind of car we all wanted when we grew up and my friend Sheri said she wanted a porsche. He pretended to misunderstand and made at least 15 minutes of jokes about driving a porch. “How do you drive a front porch? Does it go fast??”. “NO! A porsche!!!!” [cackles of little girl laughter]. Corny dad jokes- we loved them.
These are some of my best memories of elementary school- my dad, making jokes as he sat in his suit and tie in the slightly too-small chairs. All of my friends and me, eating it up.
Yesterday my husband took Monkey fishing all day. He has a few vacation days accumulated and decided to cash one in. They fished, played “Paper, Rock, Scissors”, waded in the creek, and finished with Cicis pizza buffet for dinner. They were gone from 7:30-6:30. Dad of the Year, everyone. Not kidding.
There is no doubt that I struck gold when I married my husband. He is a great spouse and the incredible icing on the cake is that he’s a stellar father. He does the fishing days, the hiking/creek days, the movie-at-his-office days. He takes all three kids out to Chick-Fil-A when I talk to him at 5:00 and tell him I’ve had a shitty day. Gold.
Would he be like this if he were, say, a single parent? Probably, for the most part. But do I take some credit for how great of a dad he is? Yes. Yes I do.
Want to ensure, conversely, that your husband never pulls equal duty in parenting? Want to make sure that he stays timid with the kids? Here are a few ways:
1. Starting at the very beginning, make sure you watch carefully as he diapers that new baby. Offer feedback about the number of wipes he uses. If you can, subtly communicate how you are able to clean that poop using less wipes.
2. When the baby fusses and doesn’t immediately calm down, take the baby back and calm it quickly with a technique you have perfected. Try to non-verbally communicate his incompetence for not knowing this technique. Don’t acknowledge that, possibly, you’ve had 40 additional hours per week to master this technique. Not relevant.
3. Pack the diaper bag yourself, every time. Rest assured that it will be done the “right way” because you did it.
4. Continue in this vein week after week and year after year, adapting your approach to your childs’ developmental stage.
Let me be very, very clear. I have tried all of these techniques. I have rolled my eyes at how he STILL doesn’t know what to bring when we drop the baby at the nursery, even though it has been the same thing for 6 months. I have thrown up my hands as he leaves the house without a single snack or diaper. I have laughed at the outfits he has chosen for our kids.
In spite of that- in spite of those times when I have COMPLETELY undermined him- he is a great dad. And our kids have managed to grow and thrive and eat and have clean butts, most of the time. Even when he doesn’t pack the bag the way I do, or calm the baby with the same technique, or remember to put coats on the kids for the 15 foot walk to the car in the dead of winter.
I know the tone of this post is all over the place. I start out with loving memories of my own dad, then I’m extolling my husband, then switch to snark and sarcasm. It is confusing.
So here is my bottom line: Moms play a big role in how competent or incompetent Dads feel with their kids. Some husbands come in with vast niece/nephew/neighborhood kid experience and can roll with the punches pretty quickly. Some have no comfort with babies/kids and feel waaaaay out of their league from the get-go.
Whatever the case, for you or your husband, recognize that you both strengthen or tear each other down as parents. My husband enjoys taking our four year old out fishing for the day because 1) our four year old is awesome and very enjoyable and 2) he has taken the parenting reins bazillions of times before and I HAVE LET HIM. Sink or swim. Diapers/snacks/coats or not.
(The same way I learned to be a parent. Doing it. Messing up. Forgetting stuff. Figuring it out.)
I was driving to the preschool today and thinking about this post, which I actually wrote a couple of weeks ago. It is very preachy/”I know how you should live your life”ish, so I have sat on it for a little while. But anyway, I was thinking about this post and remembered last December, when we were at Johns Hopkins for Monkey’s surgery. It was the day after surgery and we had waited all day for his follow-up MRI to ensure that all was well.
A 3:00 MRI time turned into 4, then 6, then 7:00. We got wheeled downstairs and through the maze of hallways at about 10:00 pm. My three year old was tired and overwhelmed. He had been told all day that “this shot won’t hurt” (it did) and “this medicine tastes good” (it did not), and been woken up at any given time to be moved, poked, or prodded by various nurses, residents and doctors. He was scared and here we were, at 10:00, trying to sell him on yet another thing that he has to go along with.
The tech told us that one of us could go into the MRI with him. Like, actually lie down on the bed next to him and get put halfway into the machine, and be with him through the MRI. My first instinct was to say I would do it. I wanted to do it. And the MRI tech sort of looked at me- the mom- as the assumed parent to do this.
But we decided that his Papa should do it instead. Can’t remember what went into that decision, but I remember it was both scary and freeing to hand this over to him.
So my husband took his wedding ring and belt off [metal], signed a release, and lied down with him on the bed. Monkey was still crying and fearful and nononononono I don’t want to do it! My husband talked him through a few deep breathes that didn’t stop the crying and I bit my lip to not interject too much. They got wheeled away a few minutes later.
I can’t remember how long the MRI lasted. Maybe 45 minutes? Longer/shorter- I don’t know. When they came out, Monkey was sound asleep. He had fallen asleep in the big beeping machine, with his thumb and his bear and his dad all right there for him. Tired but, finally, unafraid.
Now, I am not saying there is a formula. If you do x and y, then your husband will know the exact ways to comfort your child after brain surgery and will want to take him fishing/hiking/camping for days on end. It is not that simple. But- hey- he and I are in this together. And we’re in it for the long haul. So I might as well roll out the red carpet for him, whenever I can, to be the father I know he might be. And then get out of the way whenever I can.
Because- honestly- the memory of my entirely capable husband, together with our three year old on the hospital bed, is so very very worth stepping out of the way for.