I originally started thinking about writing something about dads back around Father’s Day. Of course that’s cliché, and I never got around to finishing it in time, yet here we are, going back to school. So while other blogs are posting new lunchbox ideas and debating whether or not to replace one’s backpack each year, I’m finally ready to publish this post on fathers. And I’m ok with that, because this Monday morning, I left my house before 7 A.M. to get to my first day at school, and my husband was the one who took the first day of school pictures with our children, tucked notes inside their lunches, walked them into their classrooms, and exhaled along with the other moms on the playground as they turned and walked away to continue their day without kids for the first time in months.
Just to be clear, my husband is not one of those stay-at-home dads either. He has a full-time career just like me, but he also is a full-time dad. There are times you will see him at the birthday party and times when you will see me. There are times when I rush from work to attend the music concert at school and times when he chaperones the class field trip. We don’t exactly Ro-Sham-Bo who stays home with the kids when one of them is sick, but we might as well. You see, in our home, co-parenting is not a term associated with divorce.
So what’s the big deal then? There isn’t one really, except when I consider how different it is from what I grew up with. And because of that, I sometimes have to stop and catch my breath and offer up a moment of thanks.
This is my moment of thanks.
I’ll never forget the afternoon that I walked in the house after a tiresome day at work, and as the living room came into view, there was my husband sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the floor, with needle and thread, mending a princess gown; Disney music was streaming from Pandora and my daughters were dancing around dressed in tutus and tiaras. How could I not smile at the sight?
I love my own father very much and have always felt a profound sense of loyalty to him. However, he and my mother divorced when I was fairly young and the time I spent with my father was limited. While I would sit on his lap and give him bear hugs, I would never climb into his bed or nap alongside of him the way that my daughters do with their dad. I felt that this was probably the by-product of divorce, but there were other ways that our relationship fell short.
My father is not the person I went to when I needed advice. I never cried to him after a bad break-up. He wasn’t the person who taught me to drive a stick-shift or took pictures with me when I was dressed up for prom. He didn’t sit down and tutor me on my math homework or take me on tours of college campuses, helping me to decide the next steps in life.
In their short lives, my husband has already done so much more parenting for our daughters than my own father did with me.
I’ve heard my mom and step-dad comment that today’s generation of fathers are so much more “hands-on” than dads of the past. To begin with, they change diapers. But apparently, it extends way beyond a clean Pampers. And it makes me think: perhaps my relationship with my dad wasn’t dictated by divorce, rather by a generational divide in gender roles.
Regardless, I spent a large part of my formative years yearning for a relationship that didn’t exist, and now as a parent myself, I am thankful, every day, for my spouse: as both a husband and a father.
For while it’s true that times and family dynamics have changed, I can’t imagine ever doing this parenting thing alone.
When we were pregnant with our second daughter, I decided to embrace my inner hippie and go the cloth diaper route. I purchased a single diaper and showed it to my husband. I explained to him how it all worked, and then I told him: If we do this, we are going to have to do laundry all the time and I can’t be the only one doing it. If we do this, I need your help.
He agreed, and he didn’t let me down. To this day, I have cloth diapering down as a parenting win in our book, but it would never have worked without him.
My husband is there, in the middle of the night, helping to clean up the vomit. He reads bedtime stories, builds forts, and does flips on the trampoline. He stays up till two in the morning on Christmas Eve putting together Barbie’s Dream House long after I’ve lost my patience with the minuscule faucets and cutlery. He is the man we call on to kill spiders (ok, that one is mostly me). He offers comfort when our children cry and is often the source of their laughter. He is all of the things I sometimes ached for in a dad.
And yet, where for many years I felt abandoned by my father, my husband has stayed by my side. This is not to say that we have not had problems, but we work to keep our relationship intact, both for us and for our kids.
As children of divorce, neither one of us ever wants that life for our own daughters. As individuals, we also selfishly want our own happiness. We need to continue to find happiness in each other, in our relationship, and in our lives. Again, not easy, but necessary.
As I seek happiness in my life, I am constantly amazed at how supportive my husband is of me. I could come home and tell him I want to shoot rainbows out of my butt, and he would say “I think you should try.” Whether it was doing a triathlon, getting my National Boards, starting this blog, or something as simple as choosing cloth diapers for our baby, my husband is the Nike slogan to my aspirations.
I, on the other hand, am the Devil’s advocate. For every invention or idea my husband proposes, I reason with logic and counter with what-ifs.
If opposites attract like yin and yang, then he is the yeah and I am the yeah, but…
Last school year, when my students gave presentations, this one boy shared his belief that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. He said that it was his grandmother who taught him this, and he told this story about believing that he could fly and jumping on his grandma’s bed, trying to see if he could levitate for just a minute. Everyone chuckled at his anecdote, and I thought how lucky he was to have her unwavering support of him even in something as impractical as taking flight…but I also worried how this kind of support could have resulted in him trying to fly off the roof of the garage and ending up in the emergency room.
There it was again, that nagging little nay-sayer that lives inside of me.
Truthfully though, while my husband has always encouraged me, I have never suggested anything really outrageous. I’m not coming home saying we donate all our clothing and move to a nudist colony.
My mother used to tell me, when I questioned why she and my dad got divorced, that people change, and they can either change together, or change apart, and that she and my father did the latter. As a kid, it sort of made sense, but I didn’t really understand. As a married adult, I do.
Like yin and yang, it is not about balance, but imbalance. When two sides are in perfect harmony, they cease to move. Our equity lies in our imbalance, where there is ebb and flow. We are evolving, but we are doing it within the circumference of our marriage.
Perhaps my husband is the father who buys the official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle. And maybe I am the mom who warns, “you’ll shoot your eye out.” But you know what? Our children are lucky to have both. Just as I am lucky to have him, my co-pilot, my co-captain, my co-parent.