It’s a little belated, but here’s my Father’s Day post which first ran at the Good Men Project.
My 3-year-old son stands on our bed smiling nervously. Squeaking with excitement as he creeps closer and closer to the edge, he peers down at the ground and then at my outstretched arms. No doubt assessing the situation and calculating toddler physics in his head.
I’m daring him to jump to me. He’s not so sure.
For several minutes he looked like he had OCD. Back and forth. Confident then scared. He’d walk to the edge of the bed—in a hilarious looking half-crouch ready to pounce—and then lose his nerve and retreat in a fit of anxious giggles. I just watched with great amusement, held my arms out for him, and smiled. Then I simply uttered “I gotcha.”
Suddenly he left his fears on the bed and flew at me with reckless abandon. I caught him under his arms, held him up, and spun him around while laughing. But after exchanging a hearty high-five, the kid dropped a bombshell on me.
“You always catch me dad.”
I know he meant that I physically catch him every time he jumps off the bed. But to me, at this point in my life, it meant so much more. And it was exactly what I needed to hear.
Two weeks ago I left the comforts of journalism and took a new job. While the paycheck is better, the commute is not. It’s usually around two hours. Each way. Sometimes more. Gone is the flexible scheduling, getting Will dressed in the morning and dropping him off at preschool. No more making dinner together and taking the dog for a walk. With my commute, I’m gone before he’s awake and home an hour before he’s in bed.
I’m officially a part-time parent. And I’m having a hard time adjusting.
My father is my hero. I’ve tried to be like him at every turn. Unfortunately he was seldom around when I was a kid. Although plenty smart enough, he missed the chance to go to college. But he lucked out and got an opportunity to help start a business from the ground up. It required long hours, and that was on top of being a town official.
He was at a selectman’s meeting when I hit my first out of the park home run. My mom was there (because she was SuperMom and there for everything), but the first Little League homer is a uniquely father-son moment.
I had to wait until after the game and we made our way over to Town Hall, where his meeting was in progress. When he noticed us he raised his eyebrows wondering why we were there. I held up the baseball the team had given me, swung an imaginary bat and made the home run signal. His eyes went wide and his face lit up as he smiled. I knew he was proud. But the next face he made had regret and disappointment written all over it. If he was a cartoon, the bubble above his head would’ve read “I can’t believe I missed it.”
Fast forward to the present.
I’ve been a parent for three years, but now everything is different. My wife is temporarily out of work and I’m the breadwinner now. For the first time our family’s survival depends on my paycheck, but my paycheck requires a hellish commute that has me spending more hours in the car on a daily basis than with my son. I’m going to miss things. Things like talking to the preschool teacher everyday and being the “go-to” parent. Little things, but those are always the most important.
When I talked about my feelings recently, my dad chimed in and said “This is the real test of parenting. It’s very tough, and the guilt can be awful. This is where you learn just how tough parenting really is, and just how valuable the years and the moments really are.”
My dad more than made up for the things he missed early on. He’s always been there no matter what. He’s still running a business and he’s still a town official. But whenever I needed something he always found a way. Without fail. He was always there to catch me. Still is.
Happy Father’s Day to all the catchers.