He’s the man without a plan. He’s winging it through life. He’s usually got a sunburn, covered head-to-toe with dirt but wearing a giant grin. He’s got a kid or three hanging off each limb when he’s outside playing. He’s undaunted by events that require the use of port-a-potties. His culinary specialties usually involve something from a box and a microwave. He knows how to fix anything with duct/electrical/hockey tape. He’s always got a pocket knife handy.
We see this man all the time assuming various forms but he exists for almost all of us in some way that is unique to us. I saw a few of them yesterday, splashing around a lake with children on a paddle board, a canoe, and a speed boat. I covered my eyes and prayed that the flotation devices I’d strapped around them would be enough to prevent them from meeting their likely demise or that one of the giant man-eating perch that dwell in the murky lake bottom wouldn’t unhinge its voracious jaws and swallow my babies whole. But even through my neuroses, I was unable to deny the adorable situation and had to snap a few pictures of them getting the kids to throw caution to the wind and helping them to create forever memories.
Of course I’m talking about dads. These are the guys with a devil-may-care attitude who rarely, if ever, bother with things like diaper bags, snacks, or even hand sanitizer. Those are obviously unnecessary things made popular by mothers. Dads are the spontaneous element of the best childhood memories. They might humor us moms by putting helmets or elbow pads on the kids, but they don’t really believe anyone needs that stuff (until they’re grandfathers). When Dad shows up to play, you can only expect the unexpected to happen.
My own father often came home with items that I am sure my mom would have quickly vetoed had she ever been seriously consulted. There was the go-kart that we used to perfect our 360s on the gravel at the corner of our yard and then the enormous batting cage that took up a significant part of our property, where my brothers learned to blast baseballs like cannons. But those are some priceless memories!
My own husband, usually the pragmatic voice of reason, also continues this legacy of spontaneity in surprising ways. Many times I have been told to adhere to a household budget, but there is not a price tag when it comes to an exorbitant amount of Nerf guns and foam ammunition; in these adventurous endeavors usually requiring the use of plastic goggles, money is no object.
My warnings of caution are usually brushed off when curiosity collides with inspiration and my suggestions for safety are met with such extreme disdain, that he will even go a step further to create a situation more daring than the original just to make the point that, “It’s a great idea! The kids will love it!” In his defense, sometimes I am eating my words and everyone has fun without injury. But other times, I’m applying an ice pack to a crying child within ten minutes and he’s suddenly very quiet, washing and vacuuming my car.
He’s had to learn to roll with some situations that I never thought he would. His own snot grosses him out, but I’ve watched him, countless times, hold a tissue up to our children’s faces and tell them to blow out as much nastiness as they can. He also gagged every, single time he had to change a poopy diaper; I think Grace’s last diaper change was the happiest day of his life. But watching how much love and care he has when brushing Grace’s hair or listening to him read Captain Underpants to the boys before bedtime, I can forgive all the times he refuses to reapply sunscreen or lets them eat McDonald’s fries for an afternoon snack. He is a dad, after all, the guy who keeps things real.
Sometimes he has the unenviable job having to be the “bad guy,” the disciplinarian. It can mean having to hear those fated words, “I don’t love you anymore,” but sticking to his guns no matter how much it hurts because he knows in his heart it’s the right thing to do. And at the end of the day, only his hugs can squeeze away the hurt and the disappointment, or the fear and anxiety and can make everything all right again.
It has been an incredible journey watching my husband become a father. When our son was born, I saw pure panic in his eyes in the hospital. “I have no idea what to do!” he had said. Neither of us had ever known such consuming fatigue. We didn’t know what we’d gotten ourselves into, but together, we figured it out. I remember seeing his hands cup around each of our children’s tiny newborn heads as he looked into their faces humbled with disbelief that together, we’d made these lives and were responsible for keeping them alive.
Sounds simple in theory, but in practice, it’s the hardest job there is. I get it now. I understand how my dad struggled between being a fun dad and being a real dad. I see my husband carefully balancing on the same line. My greatest hope is that someday, if we’ve done everything we could to prove to our kids that we loved them the best that we could, maybe they’ll want to be the kind of parents we were, only doing it better while understanding how tough it really is.
So with all of this on my mind and Father’s Day fast approaching, I’d like to take a moment to say, Happy Father’s Day to all dads out there! May there always be an abundance of duct tape, band-aids, and Nerf foam ammunition.