When you’re falling in love, you have a very important job. You’re choosing your mate for life, and you don’t want to mess it up. You’re looking for someone who makes you laugh and values you as a person. You want to see that he has kindness in his heart and that he will treat you well, even if you’ve been getting on his nerves all day. You also usually seek out someone who you find attractive, and who can make you feel beautiful just by giving you a little look. If you’ve ever been in love, you know the look I’m talking about.
But what you probably aren’t thinking, especially if you are young like I was, is what kind of father will this man be?
I can just imagine being out to dinner at age 17, looking across the table into my boyfriend’s eyes, and saying, “So. What are your views on spanking children?”
Just before we got married, we decided how many kids we wanted, and what we would name them. But still nothing about what kind of parents we wanted to be.
By the time I was pregnant, we discussed a few basics, like that I would breastfeed and that we wouldn’t leave our baby to cry. But it wasn’t until our son was 8 or 9 months old before I got a clear picture of who my husband was as a father.
He’s always excelled at the stereotypical hands-on father stuff, like tickling and throwing the baby up in the air. Recently, he’s started playing “Papasaurus,” chasing 18-month old Benjamin around the house saying, “Roar! I’m gonna get you!” This game involves lots of giggling.
Originally published in The Daily World June 2007. Reprinted with author’s permission.
I’m sure there are many fathers who enjoy this kind of playtime with their kids. But do those dads sit with their kids and read “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom,” eight times in one day? Do they spend weeks working with their kids to teach them powerful abstract concepts, like that we should be gentle with animals because they have feelings too? Do they lay down with them each and every night, gently singing lullabies until they fall asleep peacefully?
My husband does.
Sure, we’ve had our share of parenting arguments … (“Please don’t watch violent movies with the 6-month-old baby in your lap,” and “You gave our 14-month-old baby a whole bottle of chocolate milk?!?!?!”) but whatever problem comes up, we try to talk about it.
I’ve even lost my fair share of these arguments. With kindness and patience, my husband has explained to me why playing wrestling games and sword-fighting with plastic hangers is more about bonding than violence.
We’ve stayed true to our original concepts as best we could. No one has spanked the baby, and we see that he is well-behaved and amazingly empathetic toward other children. He shares well and does not go around shouting “mine” at his playmates.
My husband is the one who’s there for most of the day-to-day stuff. He’s the one who has to deal with it when Ben throws all of his food on the ground or refuses to go down for his nap. He’s the one who has to hold a screaming kid for a time-out, waiting until he’s calm enough to listen to why it’s not OK to bite Papa, even if you are feeling very angry.
Neither of us is perfect, but sometimes I just stop and take a moment to really think about how lucky I am. There are lots of parents out there who are constantly compromising and arguing and about how they think kids should be raised.
If I could go back and talk to that 18-year-old girl, falling head-over-heels in love with a boy who just drove two hours to bring her flowers when she’d had a bad day, I’d bring her a picture or two.
I’d say, “You think you can’t love him any more than you do at this moment, right?”
She’d likely agree that it would be impossible to love him more.
Then we’d look at a few photos of him crying over his newborn son and maybe one of them a year later walking on the beach collecting shells. I’d tell her how many diapers he changes, and how on Saturday mornings he gets up bright and early with the baby, because he knows tired mamas need their sleep.
“You just wait. You have no idea.”