Dads are heroes who work behind the scenes

Janet's World

June 15, 2008|By Janet Gilbert

When I got engaged, I wasn't looking at my boyfriend as a potential father of our future children.

Instead, I was evaluating him on a number of critical issues, namely:

1) Did he love me?

2) Did he love me more than he had ever loved anyone before?

3) Did he love me more than life itself?

Once I had ascertained the answers to these critical questions - 1) yes, 2) probably, and 3) What do you think this is, the sequel to Sleepless in Seattle? - I confidently forged ahead with the marriage plans.

But having spent a couple of summers employed as a "Mother's Helper" as a teenager, I was in no way eager to start up production of a group of miniatures who were always hungry, cranky and wanting something. Another cookie. Another push on the swing. Another bedtime story.

I was at a stage where I enjoyed other people's children in short bursts. I liked coming home from my job and deciding what, if anything, I wanted for dinner. If I wanted to leave my laundry until the weekend, it was no big deal. If I wanted to go away for the weekend, I hit the road. If I wanted to stay up or sleep late, I did so, with no consequence. It was a very self-centered lifestyle.

I loved it.

I don't really know what happened. It was like I suddenly woke up one day five years later and thought, "I have way too much free time! I need some dependents who will challenge my problem-solving skills and drain me of my mental and financial resources."

Luckily, around that same time, my husband was thinking about what a nice change it might be to start a number of projects around the house but never be able to complete a single one because of the demands of infants, toddlers.

I remember when we brought our firstborn home from the hospital 19 years ago. I stepped inside with my new fashion accessories of excessive baby gear and sank down on our family room sofa, stunned.

Though I had been gone for just under 24 hours, I felt that I had been shipped to a different planet. A planet with cumbersome car seats and dangling black-and-white mobiles; a land where every outlet had a cover and every cabinet had a lock. I felt overwhelmed by the thought of doing anything but holding our amazing, frighteningly small baby who had come into the world with fewer instructions than your typical VCR.

I could see that my husband felt the same way. This was strangely comforting.

But what I didn't know - and what I would learn over the ensuing 20 years - is that he would bring a lot of important stuff to the parenting table that I was woefully short on. Like a deep reservoir of patience. Superb negotiating skills. And the ability to listen without judgment, even on issues as seemingly inane as who pinched whom, and who got to use the red cup.

Dads are so often portrayed as doofuses in the broadcast media - either they're clueless loafers on hammocks, or they're know-it-all bossy types.

But the best dads I know fit neither stereotype. You can pick them out easily - the new ones are running with the jog-stroller in the neighborhood. Some are coaching kids' games today. Others have just now set down their cup of coffee and newspaper to address a problem with the computer or car for their toddler or teen.

Most of these dedicated guys will be grilling - not chilling - later in the day.

Sure, we'll give them a card and a token gift on this Father's Day. But the gift they get every day, in an unceremonious and casual way, is the very best of all: children who actually want to spend time with them.

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