It was about 8 years and 5 months ago that I took the most terrifying drive of my life – the day Mrs. Pez and I drove our first daughter Alessa home from the hospital. We were officially on our own as parents, and with our tiny treasure sausaged into her car seat between a life-raft of rolled up towels, I thought to myself:
“Well this is it, you’re a dad now, and everything is different from here on out.”
The responsibility of caring for another person – my own child – changed my perspective more than anything in the previous 43 years of my life. The road ahead had never been more daunting. I wondered the same things every father does about how I’d be able to protect her and keep her safe, and with any luck teach her how to handle adversity.
When Alessa was two, a fly buzzing around her head landed on her eyelid. She freaked out, claiming the fly had stung her (it hadn’t… it just landed for a split second and then flew off, … and it was a fly). But since that day, she has been terrified of flying bugs of any kind, especially bees.
There’s no way I could have seen that coming, and even less I could have done about it. I felt deflated at my obvious failure to keep her safe from the big scary world.
So now, when something small and buzzy files into the house, I’ll trap it under a glass, then slide a spatula under underneath and carry the insect to an open window for release. It’s always seemed easier and less cleanup than the traditional smash & squish method.
It’s my belief that as a parent my biggest job is to prepare my kids how to take care of themselves in the world, to equip them with enough knowledge and savvy to make the right choices, and find their way when I’m no longer here to hold them in my lap and wipe their tears.
I know they’re still just children, relying almost 100% on Mrs. Pez and me for, well… everything. But when does this lesson in life’s survival techniques begin?
Life as it is these days leaves little time to ponder and execute strategies for imparting Dad wisdom on my youngs. The provision of the food / shelter/ clothing triumvirate and days filled with tasks and lists and drop offs and pick ups, leaves little time to just enjoy being a father.
So I wonder… what am I teaching my kids, and what are they learning from me…?
As a kid myself, I learned to avoid doing stuff that got me into trouble, and somewhere along the way I learned the value & satisfaction of stacking a cord of wood. And while I don’t really remember any specific words of advice from my own dad, the fact that I made it this far is some proof that something he said or did got through to me.
In a completely serendipitous turn of events – as I finished this story and walked out of my office, I found Alessa at the window, going after a bee (… actual truth). Talk about making me proud…
Now that I’m 8 years into this dad gig, (and four years ago we completed our family with the addition of daughter #2) I wish I could pass on something more than “eat your breakfast” and “brush your teeth”, and “be nice to your sister”.
I can’t even take credit for teaching my daughter how to ride her bike… How ironic is that? But I did take her dutifully to Pedalheads, calmed her tears, got her onto the field and turned my back and walked even as she cried to the teacher. Tough love is a bitch.
But she wasn’t ready to learn from me (maybe I inherited my own dad’s impatience for teaching), and I really only cared that she learned how to ride a bike, not who she learned it from. It took her a while, but she got it and now loves zooming around the back yard or local school ground, and even more when I join her on my mtb or the old commuter with the kiddie seat in back for her sister. Maybe one day she’ll love it the way I do, but now I’m happy.
But still I look for signs that she’s learned something from me, that maybe she’ll pass on to her own kids one day. And after wracking my brain, I remembered something that happened when she was about four, that beyond her enthusiasm for play and making up goofy dances, has given me a small glimmer that I’m getting through to her.
On that day I was in the kitchen talking with Mrs. Pez, and in the background I heard something buzzing around the window, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. Alessa was there too, but this time instead of her usual freak out, she just walked over to the utensil drawer and dug out a spatula, then reached into another drawer where we kept her plastic drinking cups, and the next thing I know… she’s got the bee trapped in the cup and is letting it out the open window.
… A glimmer indeed.
Happy Father’s day – I’ll be spending part of it at the beach with my girls.