Sometimes, I miss the diapers.
I never thought this would be true, but on Father’s Day 2015 it is for me.
My wife and I have four children – they are now ages 17, 14, 11 and 8. The three older ones are boys. The littlest one is a girl who each day attempts to win an Oscar for dramatic acting.
With that stair-step, three-years-between-kids spacing, we went through about a dozen years where at least one of the children was always in diapers.
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Diapers were a smelly chore, but also gratifying in a strange way. The child’s problem was obvious. I knew how to solve the child’s problem. It took about 90 seconds.
Our kids don’t have those kinds of problems anymore. I bet most of yours don’t, either.
I still love being a dad and know it is the most important job I will ever have. But I am finding out that life is both simpler and more complicated when you get into these middle stages of fatherhood.
I’ve been at it for 17 years now. Often, it feels more like 17 minutes.
The kids don’t need me as obviously anymore when they are in school, but they still need me. Now, though, they need me to explain an algebra formula I don’t remember. Or to drop off a forgotten photo ID five minutes before they are about to take the SAT. Or to try and fail to explain the world’s horrors, like what happened at a Wednesday night Bible study in Charleston this past week.
It all takes a lot more than 90 seconds.
Our family has issues with fighting, sibling rivalry, saving money for college and how much time anyone is allowed to play the addictive video game Minecraft. Normal stuff. Easy stuff, really, when you think about the sorts of things so many families must go through.
And yet it can feel overwhelming at times – especially when I wade into a sibling dispute and leave it 10 minutes later with punishments doled out, voices raised and everyone angrier, including me.
What happened to the diaper-sized problems?
That’s what I wonder.
What am I forgetting?
Now I’m 50 years old and my oldest son is 6-foot-2 and can dunk a basketball on a good day. I still remember when he was first born and I could hold him in one arm. I typed several stories on deadline, left-handed, while rocking him to sleep with the right.
One time, when he was in first grade, we got a call from the school. He had broken his arm on the playground. We had an artist paint an okapi on his cast, because that bizarre relative of a giraffe was his favorite animal.
Now he is driving and leaves for college in a year. I keep thinking of things he needs to know that I haven’t told him yet, none of which have to do with okapis.
I texted him randomly the other day from work. I suddenly had this irrational fear that his vision was going to be blocked at an intersection and he would have a wreck. It would be caused by the fact he still had his high school parking sticker hanging off his rear view mirror even though school was out.
“Already took that down a few days ago,” he texted back.
Surely there’s something else I must tell him, I think.
What am I forgetting to tell all of them?
My kids have grown up in church and have always felt safe there – what do I tell them about Charleston?
My 8-year-old girl still wants to read together many nights, and we happily do.
But she doesn’t have to have a parent around to get through a story anymore. She reads and writes on her own. In a recent Mother’s Day poem for my wife, she wrote that her mom was “a deep thinker and a coffee drinker.” (And by the way, Father’s Day gets the shaft on teacher-mandated presents made at school. We Dads are stuck in mid-June, with school already over, while Mother’s Day produces a blizzard of school-approved creativity).
Our second-oldest boy is into fishing and table tennis this summer. The third-oldest lives for sleepovers. They get more independent every day.
I dropped our youngest two kids at an overnight camp in the mountains last week and hugged them goodbye. Then I just kept hanging around. It was helicopter parenting – I kept hovering, just waiting to buzz in at the slightest sign of homesickness.
My 11-year-old looked up from a board game after awhile.
“Wait, Dad – you’re still here?” he asked.
Yes, I am still here. Like so many well-meaning and somewhat clueless Dads, we are all still here, trying to understand what we are supposed to do next.
Our kids have figured out by now we’re not invincible. We have figured out that we can’t solve all their problems.
But we can keep trying. We can all keep loving our own fathers and our own kids, on this Father’s Day and all the others. We can try to do our best for each other.
And when the diapers eventually come around again in a few years – because everyone says grandchildren are the world’s truest delight – man, I’m going to be ready.
Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @scott_fowler