Fatherhood in my generation presents an interesting case study for those generations that follow. I believe fatherhood at any point in time is an interesting topic to explore, but especially now, with the strain most families experience when both parents have to work; fatherhood presents both joys and pitfalls unique to this moment in time. Daycare is a necessity for most. This means that a man’s responsibility to earn enough to support his family has to include weekly costs that, when put together for all three children, surpass the value of my rent, car payment and nearly half of my grocery bill. Included in that responsibility is the time needed by my wife, and really everyone’s wives, to perform her job properly. This means a split, or near split, in pick-up duty. This alone puts a strain on life, as I’m sure I could do my job better if I could put in more time at work. Future goals and opportunities are often put on hold and pass fathers by, as those without this responsibility can more fully devote themselves to their professional passions. Fatherhood is a complex and layered enigma. Even when we seem to be able to balance all of the above, there still rests the question of ‘Am I doing this right?’
My children, 4, 3 and 5 months old, are the life-blood of any and all effort I am able to muster. They complete the cycle that returns me to work, focused on strengthening my skills and earning increased pay and opportunities. While they push me out the door in the spirit of improving our quality of life, it is that same desire for quality of life that pulls me home. As we find ourselves taking on responsibility, we hope the curve of improvement is not far behind. That we can learn to balance to needs of one infant, and then add to that a year later with one walking shakily about the house, while the other infant sleeps, is a testament to what we are capable of. That we can find ourselves just a few years later, with two children intent on their nightly dance parties while the other is soothed to sleep further displays that flexibility. We are perfectly capable of adapting to the requirements of our life. It is quite often solely the confidence that we lack to possess.
As part of adding our third, one of the daily routines passed solely to me is the bathing, readying of pajamas, teeth, hair and multiple trips to fill a cup with water, and prayers. My wife established the order of prayers a few years back. If we veer from that order even slightly, both “big kids” quickly alert us to our sin and urge us back on to the path of the familiar. As it has become my duty, it has transformed into my pleasure. I’ve incorporated a few additional items to the end of the night-time routine. A few times a week, we do “video songs.” These are merely songs from various Disney movies shuffled through YouTube from which my children each choose one. Sometimes, the songs are old and familiar: Cinderella, Tangled, Tarzan, Hercules, and on down the line. My son has a much greater penchant for songs he’s never heard. He doesn’t even know he hasn’t heard them. He just likes the image displayed on the screen, and says, “Daddy, that one.” I shake my head, confused. I never wanted the unfamiliar as a child. Give me the tried and true. Nevertheless, we select the song from Lion King 2, or from the Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc. Video songs also give me a key negotiating chip, ensuring good behavior during all of bedtime preparations.
As an aside, yesterday I completed Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. While I would have done it differently, the reporting on a year of striving to maintain resolutions each month, picking up new tasks as she went, all while keeping an eye on each one from the past months struck a chord with me. Similarly, at the end of the book, she describes a process where occasionally, she and her husband enter their children’s rooms and “gaze lovingly” at them while they sleep. While my wife and I do not do this together, but have each done that at times, there is a part of our routine that took on new meaning for me as a result. In the last few months, my two children have taken on the custom of laying with me on the floor as we say prayers. There is a body pillow between their two beds that I rest on as we say prayers, and enough room for each of them to snuggle against me. Rubin described an exchange she held with her husband during one of these loving gazes. She commented that one day they would look back on the occurrence of this tradition with fondness. To which her husband replied, “We will say ‘they were such happy times.”
Last night, as my children cuddled up against me, the hour later than I’d hoped for, I recalled this passage and spent some time during our prayers thinking about this happy time. There will come a time when cuddling is no longer accepted. When they’ll want to spend their last few minutes reading a book, or watching a video, or talking on the phone to a friend. While I will be granted back some of my individual freedom, I will lose the chance to experience moments of true dependence. I’ll be glad to have my time back. I’ll be sad that it is so.
Fatherhood is tricky. Constantly blending and balancing personal and professional desires and requirements with the requirements of parenting creates a great many opportunities to learn from failure. The nuances of all of these facets of my life require constant examination. In my toughest moments, caught between the three largest portions of myself, I struggle to remind myself that when my children are grown, or even just a bit older, my salary, drive to succeed, plans to write and to read will all still exist. It is the innocence of children that wipes away quickest. So for the time being, I resolve to let those other things call to me from the back of my brain, in hopes that I’ll continue to be granted one more night to be called to that body pillow, to pray and sing and cuddle – one more time.
Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,