On being a dad

Jeff Pearlman has a Father’s Day sermon. He doesn’t hold back. And he has a point.

I’ve got no room to preach. But I guess I can talk about being a dad.

I try. When I told the friend who later became my oldest son’s godfather we were expecting, he gave me a hug and shouted, “You’ll be perfect parents!” And I gave him a funny look, because I knew that wasn’t true. I knew I’d mess up sometimes. I was afraid I’d mess up a lot. But I guess that was kind of his point. I wouldn’t settle for what I am. I’d want to be better.

I definitely wasn’t perfect this past Wednesday. I had an appointment to keep that morning, so I wasn’t going to work, so I was out of my morning routine. My oldest son got up early, and he screamed all morning. There was some DVD he wanted to watch, and I couldn’t find it, and for some reason, he thought the louder he screamed, the easier it would be for me to find it. I snapped, and I screamed back. That never works, by the way. You never win a shouting match with a three-year-old.

Finally I came to my senses and I just took his favorite trains away. I just picked them up off his train table and put them up on a shelf, really high, but in plain view. He started screaming even louder. “I WANT THOMAS, PERCY AND BILLY!”

“Then settle down and stop screaming,” I said firmly.

Within 30 seconds, he was calmed down. It’s like magic. So I took the trains back down from the shelf and gave them to him.

That trick almost always works, but I so rarely remember it.

Being a dad is hard when it’s 6:30 in the morning and you’ve already got two screaming kids (because trust me, the younger one starts screaming when the older one does, well, just because) screaming about something that isn’t even going to matter in an hour, and you haven’t had a cup of coffee yet.

One of these days I’ll learn to fake the routine, even when I’m not doing my normal routine, to keep the kids calm. That’s part of the trick. I couldn’t tell you what our normal morning routine even is, but somehow we do the same thing every morning, and we all make it through, and then we make it through the day. And if I deviate too much, I’m a zombie, even after I get to work. Yep, when my routine’s off, my coworkers know it. Maybe it’s because my shirt’s on backwards, or because I don’t know what my name is. But they know. And the ones who had kids understand.

Then there are days like Monday. I came home from work. The younger son gave me a toothy grin and said “da-da-da-da-da” and wanted me to pick him up. The dog was excited. And the older son ran up to me and said, “Daddy, Daddy, we got you a shirt today, it’s a surprise!” A surprise that was supposed to wait until Sunday.

I’ve got a pretty good idea what the shirt says and what it’s supposed to look like, and it’s not going to look anything like that, but my sons made it and they’re so excited they don’t want to wait until Sunday.

Yeah, it’s hard, and the moments like that don’t happen every day, or even every week for that matter. But they make it worth it.

My oldest has been afraid to sleep alone ever since he graduated from his crib. He wanted both of us to lay down with him until he got to sleep. That wasn’t so bad on the nights he fell asleep after 10 minutes. On the nights it took two hours, it ruined everything. Nothing got done in the Farquhar household those nights, and there’s always stuff that needs to get done. So we started taking turns. Then he had a nightmare and he wouldn’t sleep in his own room anymore. Not good. It was even worse when he’d decide to sleep sideways. So I spent a few nights sleeping on the floor, or on the couch.

Getting him back to his room was painful. We had to put him in his bed, turn out the light, and close the door. He started screaming. He got out of bed and ran to the door. His little hand poked out from under the door. “I do need you Mommy and Daddy, I do need you!” The first couple of nights he got so upset he made himself sick. I had to assure him there were no monsters in his room or in the house, and if any did get into the house, I’d protect him. And early in the morning, he’ll usually yell for me. I’ll go into his room and lay down in his room for about half an hour (hopefully) until he decides it’s time to get up. That’s a good day. A bad day is when he decides he wants to get up right away. A worse day is when this happens at 5:30. Those are the days I end up at work an hour early, with bloodshot eyes and wearing shoes that don’t match. But I still remember how to patch a server even on those days when I can’t tell you how old I am, so they put up with me.

Speaking of work, Pearlman says men don’t think their wives realize how hard they work. But the opposite is true too. Last week I had to stay home to take care of the kids because my wife was sick. Both of them were really good for me. Yes, there may have been a tantrum, and I had to chase down a half-naked baby that crawled away while I was changing his diaper a few times–they’re fast!–but they ate when they were supposed to and they took good naps and they played nicely. I don’t think they’re usually that good for their mom. And by 5, I was tired. Some days at the office are harder than that. But some are easier, too.

My job involves some travel. My old job didn’t, but it forced me on several occasions to cancel my weekend plans, and sometimes I didn’t find out until 5 PM on Friday that I was going to be working all weekend. That doesn’t happen at my new job. When I was offered that job, my wife and I talked about it, and we decided that was a fair trade to make. Cancelling plans on your wife is hard. Cancelling plans on young kids who don’t understand is a lot harder.

And I’ll tell you what. Leaving those two little guys on Monday is hard. And Friday when I come back is almost as bad, because I never can get a flight as early as I would like, and the last two times my flight was delayed by a few hours. It’s surprisingly quiet at airports and nobody bugs you and it’s amazing how much reading you can get done, but given a choice between that and being at home in my living room with two kids screaming because I put the wrong Dora DVD in the player, I’d take the two screaming kids.

I don’t think that makes me a great dad, but that’s probably enough to make me a good one.

Being a dad to two young sons means I’ve put certain parts of my life on hold for a while. I haven’t gotten any serious work done on my train layout in two years, and the certification I need in order to really advance my career didn’t happen last year, and may very well not happen this year either. But those things will still be there when my sons get big enough that they don’t need me as much. Or in the case of the train layout, big enough to help.

2 thoughts on “On being a dad

  • June 19, 2011 at 8:49 am
    Permalink

    See, your friend was right. Perfect parents.

    BTW, perfect parents are a figment of the imagination. We all screw up, we all try to make amends. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes not. There are no instructions books that comes with kids, and though many parents have written them, they don’t always work with the model you take home.

    Just the act of writing this article points out your great dadness!

    • June 23, 2011 at 8:42 am
      Permalink

      Thanks. I try, which is all I can do.

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