Wednesday, August 22, 2012

In Praise of Daddy

"When I big, I want to be a library dude and a daddy."
Yesterday, we were traveling home from story time when my three year old made this declaration. I knew why he wanted to be a "library dude," he is obssessed with trying to go behind the counter where only librarians are allowed and he has told me that he wants to play with books all day like the "library dudes." I was curious what he would say about why he wanted to be a daddy, though, so I asked him. Here was his answer, "Because a daddy gets to hug and kiss his baby." I began to tear up. My son is growing up to be an amazing man, and it is thanks, in large part, to what his daddy is teaching him about what it means to be a father and a man.

The first year of being a parent is really difficult. In our house, this was especially challenging because of our son's digestive issues and insistance that only "Mama" would do. This meant that I almost never left him and when I did, my poor husband had to helplessly listen to my baby cry the whole time I was gone even though he was lovingly holding him and soothing him just as I would have. (Usually, this was not more than half an hour or so, but when I went to the dentist when my son was four months old, he screamed all 72 minutes I was gone getting my teeth cleaned.) My husband, who was completely smitten with our son and was desperate to spend as much time and have as much contact with him as possible was very frustrated by our son's strong preference for me the first six months. He would complain that he felt so left out of his own family and I, stressed out as all new mothers are, tried to explain to him that his time was coming. One day, our son would enter the "era of daddy" and all the things he was doing all along would suddenly add up and he would see just how important he is as his son's father and role model and how much his son appreciates him. It didn't stop my husband from occasionally feeling superfluous and rejected, but he did what my son was most comfortable with and played with/cared for him every chance he could and when my son would not settle for less than mama, he handed him to me. He did what every caring father does: exactly what his son needed at the time.
As he grew older, my husband and my son found ways to bond that I never would have thought of. Our son originally practiced standing by holding on to daddy's legs as he shaved. Whenever we went for family walks, my husband would always want to wear him in his carrier and would joyfully entertain him by running and jumping and doing all kinds of physical acrobatics, that frankly, I would have been afraid to do! My husband began sharing his passion for MSU football, first by insisting that the baby stay in the room on an MSU blanket listening to the game, then by bouncing him in tune with the fight song as the game went on, and then by sitting next to him and telling him about football as our son hummed merrily along and occasionally threw out his own football commentary: "Look, hats! They fall down! Oh, no! He's nigh-nigh!" It was no surprise to me, when at eight months, my son chose to take his first crawling steps on the weekend toward his daddy when I was out of the room. Eight weeks later, he also took his first walking steps towards his daddy (at least I was in the room that time!). You see, I was his comfort and his home base, but his father is the future he is forever moving toward.

I know that many boys grow up in loving homes without their fathers and go on to be great men, but when a man takes the time to provide a good example of what good, caring fatherhood looks like, well, it's a wonderful, beautiful thing. What I especially loved about my son's reason for wanting to be a daddy was that what he appreciates most about his daddy isn't how much fun he is (which is, I'll admit, way more fun than mama) or that he does cool things like takes him to hockey games or that he teaches him neat skills like how to trash talk (accidentally taught him that, I might add and, thankfully, cleanly. . .no swears!). What my son sees as the best part of being a "daddy" and a man, is his capacity for tenderness and love--his ability to "kiss and hug his baby." What better teacher could my baby have for how to be a real man than the example of his father? So, for all the daddies out there who are struggling, trying to find your place in your young child's daily life or schedule. Don't Give Up! You are an integral part of who your child is learning to be and what your child is learning about men and what men can and should do. Keep up the good work and give lots of hugs and kisses. Even when you don't think they are noticing, they are!

Thanks for reading,


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