The first thing that my husband said when our oldest son was born was, “Jackie, he recognizes my voice.” The next day, my husband sat in one of those ugly mauve hospital chairs, holding our new baby and singing “Green Grows the Willow Tree.” Almost seven years later, he sang to him today while they were reading Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. Some kind of twist on “The Girl from Ipanema.”
Parenting is as constant as the air, the stars and the dawn. Every minute of the day, especially when they’re young, your kids need you or your kids are on your mind. You learn to set aside the resentment and take your enjoyment in smaller nuggets of whatever alone time you can get, whether that alone time is just in your mind or whether you are actually physically alone. I get up at 5am almost every day just to work in peace and quiet before my children get up at 6 or 6:30am (even on weekends, folks—it never ends).
Kids have a way of ripping your life open, like aliens ripping open a human host’s chest (sorry, I just saw Prometheus). All of the secrets that you kept tamped down, like the fact that you have a terrible temper, explode out of you at the most inopportune moments. On the other hand, you also can’t tamp down the dreams that you’ve been trying to kill in your quest for suburban nirvana. You’ll do things for your children that you wouldn’t do for yourself. You’ll find courage for their sakes because it’s so important to teach them to take chances. You have to teach them to take risks by taking risks yourself.
I haven’t reached the moment where I wish that I could Benjamin Button my kids to a younger age to relive the magic. To me, the kids are fine just the way that they are. To spirit them back to younger times would be to take away the pieces that they have added to their complex personalities and the knowledge that they have soaked up like little sponges. I do think back to the calmer times that my husband and I had before the kids were married, when we could leave to go to Starbucks at a moment’s notice or spend our entire Saturday reading books. I miss the days that didn’t require me to prepare two meals because my kids won’t eat the meal that their father and I eat.
My children, as maddening as they can be, have added a thick layer of richness to my life. I’m also keenly aware that the family life that I build with my husband will be the foundation of their lives. I’m lucky to share the parenting experience with a good partner. Having a parenting partner is not just about getting a break from mixing chocolate milk every now and then. It’s about sharing and melding your perspectives on your kids lives, stepping up when the other person needs to take a step back, and growing older with the knowledge that we’ve left the world a better place if we’ve populated the future with children of good quality.
My husband will have been a dad for almost seven years this Father’s Day. My oldest son made him some sort of pile of rocks on a piece of paper. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be. My son also made a card for his dad that says, “Thank you for helping me all of the time.” I’m sure that my husband will take the rocks with a magnanimous heart because those rocks and the card say, “Thank you for being there for me.” My sons have a father who shows up every day, prepares macaroni and cheese, reads Elephant and Piggie books, and sings them songs. Someday, I hope that my sons will realize how lucky they’ve been.
Here’s to all of the fathers out there who show up every day and give parenting their all. It’s not a glorious job, but it will change the shape of things to come.