The red wagon cruises clumsily through the neighborhood with a blonde-haired boy in tow. All of the sand used to battle winter’s icy roads has collected in small islands on the street, creating a harsh sandpaper effect when sandwiched between the hard plastic wheels and the concrete road. The goofy golden retriever with her tongue hanging out to one side trots happily ahead of the fracas, her tags jingling and announcing our presence wherever we go.
Such is my evening stroll, a nightly ritual now that the warmer weather is here.
The 10-minute walk is the highlight of my day. Work is done, I haven’t started cooking dinner yet, the boy is happy because he’s getting a free ride in his new wagon and the dog is thrilled because, well…she’s a dumbass golden retriever who thinks every person, animal and shiny object she sees is the most exciting goddamn thing the universe has ever produced.
So with a wagon handle in one hand and a leash in the other, I take my .4-mile stroll of zen. Well, actually the zen is often interrupted by picking up piles of my dog’s crap. But I’ll take my zen wherever I can get it. And yesterday, I used that time to reflect on what kind of a dad I am now, and will be in the future.
I’m not sure about all the other fathers out there, but I’m constantly judging myself. And I worry that I’m not doing enough, or that I’m not doing it right. I read about better, more successful and seemingly more devoted dads out there on a daily basis and I’m petrified that I don’t measure up. First off, I don’t stay at home with my son so right off the bat I’m behind in the game. Second, I’m not the breadwinner in my family. Sure I work full time, but for peanuts. My wife brings home the bacon. I pay someone else to watch my son during the day and I don’t provide very well for him financially.
So what the hell is my purpose?
My thoughts were interrupted by a ringing phone. I stopped pulling the wagon for a minute to reach into my pocket and answer. It was MJ. We talked about what she wanted me to cook for dinner and asked how Will did at daycare. I told her chicken, and he did OK. He’s still emotional about sharing and other kids getting attention from our daycare provider, but she and I have agreed on a system where Will has to earn things like outside time and one-on-one time with good behavior. Will started yelling at that point, and MJ couldn’t understand what he was saying. I translated and told her he was shouting for crackers, so I had to go to feed him.
I grabbed the wagon and got things moving again just as we came to the steep hill leading back up to our condo. The dog immediately shot up the hill toward the house (and her dinner) as I strained to rein her in with my right hand. Meanwhile my left arm was completely stretched out in the other direction dragging the wagon up the hill.
I trudged slowly up the incline trying to keep dog and child/wagon in check. With a secure hold on both of them, I inched my way home. Slowly but surely. A little bit at a time.
And that’s when it hit me.
I’m not much to look at. I’m not flashy. I make no money and I’m not a domestic god. But what I am, is dependable. I may not get there in a hurry, but I will get there. Inch by inch, little by little, I make slow but determined progress. I’m like that old station wagon that had a bunch of dings and one of the windows didn’t roll down, but you loved it because it hardly ever broke down. And while it never flew along the highway at breakneck speed, maybe that’s a good thing. Because you all piled in, went on vacations, savored the good times and got there safely.
So I realized I’m an old, rusted beater. Yet somehow I’m very OK with that. Because I am the one who communicates with our daycare provider about what’s best for Will. I’m the one who dresses him in the morning and feeds him at night. I’m the one who translates his babble into English for my wife when she doesn’t understand. Could I do all that if I worked 70 hours a week and made $250,000 a year? Could I really pay attention to the minutiae of toddlerhood, with all of the miniscule yet profound changes that happen on a daily basis? I don’t know. But those are the Ferraris. A better car for sure, but I imagine it’s pretty difficult to catch a glimpse of what’s going on outside when you’re driving that fast.
So I’ll happily be the guy in the clunker, waving as others fly by while enjoying a pit stop with my family on the side of the highway. Don’t worry, I’ll catch up eventually.
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