Parenting is torture. I don’t mean the sleep deprivation they inflicted on me for the first few years of their life, I’m talking about the torment that parents put themselves through. It’s cliche to say being a dad is the hardest thing I’ll ever do, so I won’t say it. Instead, I’ll say that no matter what I do, I’m sure I will be beating myself up about it for the rest of my life. Parenting feels like this huge responsibility where I actually get to shape my kids entire destiny. I know God will play a part in shaping my kids lives, too. But the decisions they make twenty years from now will cause me to sit back and wonder if it’s because of something I did, or said, or taught them (or didn’t teach them) that I should or should not have done. As parents, we do our best, then hope and pray that our best is good enough, and we secretly wish that our kids will be better at everything than we were.
This is the reality of being a dad, and most days when I look in the mirror I see failure. Now, I’m not saying this so anyone will leave a comment to argue with me and say, “No, Lee, you are a good dad” because if you are thinking about leaving a comment like that, then you are missing my point. The point is that I fail. I fail in ways that are obvious to everyone in the restaurant around me. I fail in ways that my wife and children see daily. I fail in ways that I don’t even know about. And that’s what parenting is for me, so much of the time.
From day one, it’s been like this. Bringing a newborn into the house completely exposes you for who you are. Even though I went to “Daddy Boot Camp” and got the onesie to prove it, it’s nothing like holding my own child in my arms and dealing with the minute by minute demands that a child has. As dads, we joke about it, but I wonder if what we’re really trying to say in our humor is “This is HARD!”
Something that pushed me over the edge on this idea was a post by Doug French on Babble. Here’s an excerpt, but I suggest you go here to read the whole thing.
Men still struggle with confessionals, maybe because we’re not supposed to confess that we, too, freak out when our kid spikes a 105º fever in the middle of the night. But our stories are starting to peek through this cracked veneer of stoic invincibility. We feel loss when a divorce separates us from our kids. We stress over our professional lives and our desire to provide. And we want to offset all that by reveling in the singular moments, like that time your three-year-old let loose a cross-legged fart that echoed in the church rafters and followed it up with a shameless “EXCUSE ME!”
I realized something from reading Doug’s post. I live so much of my life in the ‘singular moments’ especially when it comes to fatherhood. Each night as I sat to write, I’d think back to what made me happy as a dad. The Kodak Moments. This was very important for me to do when Ella was first born because Erica and I had a little bit of a hard transition to no longer being just the two of us. So reflecting each night on how Ella brought so much joy helped me process the feelings of missing our old life that many new dads don’t discuss.
I started really enjoying fatherhood and was excited to have a boy. When Pax was born, I was shocked at how different each of my kids were. So this new adventure brought all of its own unique challenges. The first challenge I faced was my idea of bonding immediately with my son, which didn’t happen. And so I had to work at it, and blogging about all the fun things I did with Pax helped me do that.
Now as I enter the next phase of fatherhood, waiting to adopt a child from Ethiopia, I find myself needing something new from this blog. One of the biggest fears I have is whether or not I will be a good enough dad? This seems weird to ask, since I already have two children of my own, but I am starting to feel the weight of raising someone else’s baby and want to make sure that I am being the best dad I can be.
I still want to remember the happy times we have together as a family (a manly scrapbook of sorts) but I also want the hours I spend writing at night, the constant thinking about topics, the notes that I jot in my notebook at random times throughout the day, I want it all to help me become a better dad.
I have not arrived. By far. If I write about the things that I struggle with or failed at during the day, I think it will help me to become better. I don’t want to hide in the happy “singular moments.” I also want to spend time evaluating my responses and attitudes. One day my kids will be grown, and they will have become the people that I have helped shape them to be, which will be a total sum of not only all of the singular happy moments but also a result of all of my shortcomings and failures as a father, too. I don’t want them to look back on this blog and think, wow those were great stories, and it sounds like we had some fun, but that’s not the way I remember you. Or that’s not what I think of when I think of you, Dad. I want them to see that even though they are painfully aware of my weaknesses, they see that I was working on them, and trying for them.
For example, today was supposed to be a beautiful day of decorating our Christmas tree and then going downtown to see the Christmas lights. Each year, Erica and I pick out one special ornament for each kid that signifies what they were like or a special memory we have of them. We both love Christmas ornaments and do this for each other every year, too. I started the tradition the first year we dated and we have a special wooden box that we put all of our ornaments in. Now, we’re starting a collection for our kids, so when they grow up and move out they will have a box of very special ornaments for their own trees.
In the middle of the day, we hid their ornaments in their stockings and told them we had a surprise for them. As soon as Ella saw what it was she said she wanted a toy surprise. She started crying and so I sent her to time-out even though I knew that wasn’t really the solution. I sat down and called her back to me to talk to her. This is where an amazing moment came for me as a dad to teach her something about gratitude. But after doing my best to explain it, she looked at me and said, “But I want a toy surprise” and I could feel myself getting so frustrated. I sent her back to time-out just so I could buy myself some time to think about another way to show her what I was trying to teach her. In the end, I just let her go. She doesn’t understand what I”m trying to say, and that is so frustrating for my personality especially (I’m a teacher, and I like it when people ‘get’ what I’m saying)
We took lots of great photos and Pax was dressed up with an elf T-shirt, but in the end I feel like I failed to capitalize on that moment, and I don’t want her to grow up to become ungrateful. Sometimes there just aren’t answers at your fingertips the way you’d like them to be.
I also feel like I’m failing Pax. He has become the town crier. I’ve nicknamed him Sir Cries-a-lot. It’s that fake cry that doesn’t come with any tears, but it’s more of a “waahhh” and a pouty face than anything else. I don’t know what to do? Isn’t it hard that each kid is different? We didn’t experience this fake crying phenomenon with Ella, so I’m completely in the dark. I don’t want him to be a crier, but just telling him to “toughen up and stop crying” doesn’t seem to be doing any good either. More missed opportunities.
We didn’t read the Bible as a family today either. We used to do it at bedtime but as Pax got older he was too fidgety. Then we started reading the Bible around dinner time, but lately either the kids are done way before I am (because it takes me the first twenty minutes of dinner to fulfill all of the requests: I want a spoon, not a fork. I want the Dora cup. Can I have ketchup? I need a napkin. Oh, Pax should probably wear a bib for pasta night…) So they are up and running around and then I don’t gather them back around, or Erica and I just wait to eat until after the kids go to bed. Today, since we travelled downtown for the Christmas lights, we obviously didn’t break into family devotions in the middle of the food court. Then the kids were so tired that Erica put Pax to bed and I read to Ella, but didn’t pray with either of them, and that’s something that is really important to me (I say that while admitting that I didn’t do it with either of my kids tonight…)
Man, that’s all just in one day. And I didn’t even have to think that hard about it. I’m sure if I sat here longer I could come up with a hundred other ways I failed as a dad today. So, I want to start thinking more about these things and writing about them. Because when I write it, it helps me to crystalize my thoughts and think of ways to be better the next day. (That last sentence was very vague, but I’m having a hard time putting into words what I’m thinking since it is 2:00 AM now…) And of course I’m always open to hear your comments on what you do that works, too!