Laura-Kim has been publishing a series of Father’s Day posts and she asked me to make a contribution so I wrote a post titled “Being a Dad” one afternoon, while I was sitting at a park with our kids.
The thing with “Dad posts”, especially when they are written for a Father’s Day series, is that it is tempting to delve into the profundity of fatherhood. I’ve certainly written those posts before.
Fatherhood is what happens when our kids disrupt our plans
This time around, I wanted to focus on an aspect of fatherhood we often don’t focus on because, well, it’s a little embarrassing. You know that saying that “(l)ife is what happens to us while we are making other plans”?
It occurred to me that much of being a Dad is like that. We have things we want to do, either with our kids or on our own, and those things are often not what our kids want to do.
I thought I had something meaningful, profound even, to share about the magic of being a Dad and then I was interrupted.
I was at the park with my daughter at the time. She asked to push her on the swings and I lost my tenuous link to what I thought would become a deep insight into the source of the magic of fatherhood.
As I pushed her higher and higher (these kids are crazy) I tried to remember where my thought train was derailed and failed. Instead I found myself captivated by the sunlight in my little girl’s hair and I realised that she isn’t such a little girl anymore. When did that happen?
Instead, our kids have a tendency to pull us out of our plans and send us down another path (usually a paved path in a park towards an inadequate hiding place). Sometimes being a Dad is recognising that our kids’ impromptu plans are the more important ones.
With that, here is my post. I hope you enjoy it (I certainly enjoyed writing it):
When you are finished reading my post, go read the other Dads’ contributions to Laura-Kim’s series:
When Michal contacted me a couple months ago about contributing a letter to my Mom to her post series titled “A Letter to My Mom”, I agreed almost right away. I thought it would be a great opportunity to finally put into words some of my thoughts about what my mother did for me from my perspective as a parent.
It is virtually impossible to appreciate what our parents do for us when we are children. We have no real frame of reference. It’s all really about us and we’re mostly oblivious to what our parents go through as they learn how to be parents themselves.
My mother became a Mom when she was 20. That may seem old in some cultures but I think the rest of us can agree that is pretty young. My Dad was only 25 when I arrived.
I don’t think I had the maturity or emotional capacity to become a parent at 25, let alone 20 (in fact, I’m certain I lacked any reasonable dose of either). My parents raised me, my sister and my brother as best they could and without that elusive Parenting Manual that never seems to arrive when our children do.
The three of us now have families of our own and it’s only really now that I have an inkling of how my parents must have felt as new parents.
I’m still pretty new at being a Dad (about 9 years in) and I’ve learned that being a parent is mostly about doing the best you can to keep your children alive, clothed, fed and happy.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes, some of which I have shared and some which you’ll never hear about. I think I’ve also done a few good things too. Mostly, being a parent is a learning experience. It happens moment by moment and there are days when it all seems to be so easy. There are other days when I can only barely keep the doubts and worry at tolerable levels.
When I look at other parents, I see other people also trying to figure this stuff out. Some are better at some aspects of parenting and not so great at others. There are, of course, the parents who really seem to have figured this stuff out and I’m constantly envious of them.
Mostly, though, none of us really have the “How to Be An Awesome Parent and Never Let Your Kids Down” manual. We just muddle along and aim to make fewer mistakes that can’t be resolved with years of therapy when our kids are older.
I’m sure she feels guilty about mistakes she feels she made as a mother just as she is (justifiably) proud of the many great things she did. One of the things I wanted to communicate through my letter to my Mom is that whatever mistakes she may feel she made don’t matter anymore.
What I take from my experiences of being my mother’s child (at least in the first two decades or so of my life) have inspired me to be a better parent to our children.
When I think about how to deal with a difficult situation, I don’t think back to some dark, tragic moment in my childhood where my parents let me down (there really weren’t any). I think back to the happy moments, the positive lessons I learned and the times I felt loved. Those are the childhood experiences that shape me as a parent today and will in the years and decades to come.
So, after all of that I have two last things to say. First, go read my letter to my Mom. Second, thank you Mom. Love you lots!
Today would have been my Dad’s 66th birthday (I think). My father’s birthday is always a pensive day for me and I miss him a little more on these anniversaries.
On days like today, I often find myself trying to conjure up memories of what he was like as a father. I wonder how he would deal with all the little situations we encounter each day? I don’t have many clear memories of my childhood and yet I sometimes have a sense of how he would behave in random situations.
Being a father isn’t easy. We have our own personality quirks to muddle through at the same time we are learning about how to be better dads and parents to our children. There is always room to improve, to give our kids more attention, play more with them, be more present.
On one hand, it seems I can never live up to my expectations of myself as a father and on the other, I wonder if each step towards meeting them is all we can really do.
Even though I almost always feel like I am falling short of my expectations of what it is to be a good father, perhaps having those expectations is a testament to my father. He wasn’t perfect (none of us are) but he set the bar pretty high by his actions and by what he was able to do in the short time he was alive.
To say that I ask myself what my Dad would do often is an understatement. In many ways he guides my actions as a father even though he passed away years before I became a father. That makes the journey a little easier and his loss a little more meaningful.
“I just don’t want to make your day worse.” My daughter’s tearful words to me before bed hit me like a proverbial shovel (or whatever proverbially hits people). I paused and explained to my little girl that her Dad had a tough day at work.
“You and your brother make my day better,” I said to her, “not worse. Definitely not worse. It’s not your fault that I was grouchy. That is my fault. I let my day upset me and I’m sorry I was grouchy with you tonight.”
I told her I love her very much and turned off the light. She turned over, went quiet and soon fell asleep. I sat with her like I usually do, this time in the growing realisation that letting myself become so caught up in my day stress-stuff meant I was putting strain on my family, my refuge from it all.
Trying to be a better Dad
When I find myself anxious or upset during my day about some or other stressor, I keep thinking that I should be able to handle it all better. After all, I’m 40 years old and I’ve been through more stressful things than this. When do I start behaving like the grown-up I am supposed to be and process my stress in a constructive manner?
It isn’t Father’s Day in Israel today but considering I’m formerly a South African and it was Father’s Day there (and elsewhere) today, I’ll go with it for now. Father’s Day is a celebration of fatherhood (yes, and an over-commercialised event, blah blah). It is another reminder to me of how fortunate I am to be a Dad to our amazing children.
In recent days, I think I have lost sight of that a bit and I let myself be snared by my stresses. This adult thing isn’t easy. It seems there isn’t really a manual for that one either.
I suppose all we can do is try be aware of our behaviour; get better at letting go of the crap we can’t change and change the crap we can. Most importantly, don’t lose sight of the people who make it all worthwhile: our family and friends.
If all else fails, I hear crying in a manly way into your beer or brewing a perfect flat white helps. I’m partial to Mumford & Sons’ Wilder Mind, but that could just be me.
Some fine print to save myself from being beaten by hard-working Moms
This post is about working Dads. Before I get to that, here is a quick disclaimer: Moms don’t receive nearly enough credit and, thankfully, there is a wealth of stuff being shared online highlighting just how much mothers actually do. The term “stay at home Mom” should be banned and replaced with “Mom who works a double shift at home because she doesn’t get the day off at the office”.
That said, Dads are often portrayed as goofballs whose primary contribution to being parents was that disappointing, drunken performance that one night about 9 months before the child arrived.
The next disclaimer is that my wife did most of what I describe in my typical day last year when I was doing evening ulpan classes.
Sure, there are fathers who fit that cliche but there are plenty of working Dads who do so much more and they don’t receive nearly as much attention as they should. I thought I’d share a typical day in my life, not to brag (I always think I could do more for our kids) but to point out that working Dads really work for their families! I’ve touched on this before, so feel free to pause this post and read my earlier one:
I have two alarms set. The first goes off at 05:00 and the second at 05:10. The reason for this early start is that I start work at around 6:30 (7:00 at the latest) so I can log enough time to return home for my second shift (more about that below). My routine is pretty much the following:
Dress fairly quickly;
Pack my breakfast to eat at the office;
Do teeth and hair (nothing fancy – just making sure it doesn’t stand up);
Leave notes for our kids;
Kiss my wife goodbye; and
Head out the door between 05:20 and 05:30 (usually closer to 05:30).
I usually walk to the train station (15 minute walk, more or less) but sometimes take the bus if I catch it in time. My train leaves at 05:48 and I arrive in Tel-Aviv in time to start work at about 06:30 (if I miss my usual train, I start work just before 07:00).
I don’t have time to eat breakfast so I do that when I arrive at work while orienting myself for the day. If our babysitter can fetch the kids 3–4 four days a week, I wind up working over 10 hours a day to make sure I accumulate enough time to compensate for the days I have to leave earlier to fetch the kids from aftercare. It mostly works out although I am still working out a few kinks.
Changing shift after work
Ideally, I work till about 4:30pm to 4:40pm when I leave to catch a 5pm train back to Modi’in. I arrive home at about 6pm to take over from our babysitter who would have fetched our kids from aftercare earlier that afternoon. On days she can’t fetch the kids, I finish work in time to catch a 3:30pm train and then hustle to fetch the kids from aftercare when it finishes.
Gina is doing ulpan (Hebrew classes) two evenings a week in Tel-Aviv so on those nights (or when she has something on at night after work), I am generally pretty busy with –
taking the kids to the park for a little play time after school when the weather is ok;
making sure homework is done;
bathing the kids;
making supper (I enjoy this part although it sometimes means we eat a bit late, depending on what time I arrive home and whether the kids have playdates);
helping Aaron make sure his bag is packed for the next day (I’ve been slacking off a bit with this lately and often leave the actual check for Gina);
putting the kids to sleep;
making school lunches and my breakfast for the next day; and
some or other home task like cleaning, laundry or something along those lines.
I have a deal with our kids to leave a note of some description for them in the mornings when I leave because I usually leave for work before they wake up. This is usually the last thing I do before getting into bed and passing out (I am aim to be asleep by 10:30pm at the latest or I can’t function the next day).
I tried waking them to say goodbye but it was a bit of a disaster because they didn’t go back to sleep and the whole family was up way too early.
Weekends are a little easier
Friday is the start of our weekend and I get to sleep late … till 6am, at least. The kids still have school so I’m usually up around 6:15am to get them out of bed, dressed and packed for school.
Gina and/or I then get them to school and spend the morning cleaning, shopping for the weekend (shops generally close early afternoon on Friday) and we then fetch the kids late morning from school.
Friday afternoons and Saturdays are mostly focused on the kids. Now that the weather is warming up it is great park weather and the kids love riding their bikes so I spend a big chunk of the weekend fighting my urge to hide in a man-cave after the week and spend time with them instead.
Oh, Gina and I also try really hard to spend some time together but kids tend to want to override that.
What’s the point of this?
There are many working Dads in our community and elsewhere who work even harder than I do. The point of this post is to give some insight into what my typical day is because I suspect many of the Dads we know have similar days.
So, yes, working Moms (and even so-called “stay at home” but really “work even harder” Moms) have a lot on their plates between work and family life. No question about that. My wife had my typical day all of last year while I was doing ulpan classes and this year is my turn.
As much as we want to celebrate the work Moms do, don’t forget the working Dads who also work really hard and make sacrifices for their families every day. Maybe swing an infographic or something along those lines our way now and then? Just a thought.
One of my friends gave me a long overdue wake-up call to play more with our kids recently. I was at a local park with our kids, along with my friend and his boys. We started playing some sort of Israeli version of “Tag” (at least what I understand the game to be) where one person has to touch one of the others playing the game, who then becomes “it”.
It was fun and it was different to what I usually do at the park with our kids. I tend to see an outing to the park as either an opportunity to crash in the open air and relax or follow our kids around on their bikes teaching them to ride. Running around dodging kids trying to grab me was actually a lot of fun, even though it also reminded me that I’m not as agile as I thought I was (I landed on my butt at least once).
As we were about to leave, my friend said to me:
You should play more often with your kids, they love it. I used to do it all the time with my boys.
At first, I was a bit taken aback. For one thing I didn’t think that I was one of those parents who didn’t play with my kids. Of course I did, didn’t I? When I thought about it I realised that I tend to resist playing with them for some or other reason. Usually it is because my idea of park downtime means emulating the trees rather than running, jumping and swinging with seemingly superhuman energy.
I also started to feel more than a little ashamed that I had failed to realise that my role as a Dad is to play with my kids, not just watch them play by themselves. I can be selfish when it comes to my downtime and this experience gave me an “when I am on my deathbed one day I won’t wish I spent less time playing with my kids and more time sitting on my butt on the sidelines” epiphany.
Our kids loved that I played with them, even if it was only for a short time. They really loved seeing their Dad try dodge them and fall down. It also felt pretty good to be more active (also helpful to keep my Diabetes under control too). I started feeling the need to get over my default laziness and play with them, at the very least to face my usual lethargy with some vigour.
I’m fortunate to have a few friends who are great Dads. They always seem to be so actively involved in their kids’ lives, doing stuff with them and making time for them. I have many moments when I feel like I can do so much better at this Dad thing than I have been. Our kids deserve a Dad who will play more with them and finding the balance in my life to give them what they deserve feels pretty challenging at times.
I remember thinking that marrying Gina in my early 30s was a good age because it meant that when we had kids, I’d still be young enough to keep up with them and play with them. Now, at 40, my body protests a bit more than it used to but I was right. I just have to get off my butt and start doing that.