It occurred to me just this morning that my oldest child is almost eleven years old now, which means that I’ve been a parent for a little over ten years.
While even my wife would grudgingly admit that I’ve figured out any number of important parental unit type things in the last decade, I’ve recently latched onto one thought that seems more important than any other: Being “Dad” is a great gig, but in every manner of speaking, it’s the no-man’s land of parenting.
Allow me to illustrate.
Less than a week ago, I was sitting at the dining room table with all three of my kids while my wife Anne was in the basement folding laundry, ironing a Girl Scout uniform and trying to close deals for her IT recruiter job.
Evan the ten year old was working on his math homework. Lily the seven year old was waist-deep in an art project involving Q-Tips, birdseed, and copious amounts of glue while my five year old daughter was also slogging through her “homework”, which basically amounts to writing her name over and over and over again. In her defense, Josephine is a tough spell for a five year old.
Then, as if by magic, at the exact same moment, all three kids hit an impasse in their assigned task and decided that they needed help. And the more immediately-er, the better-er.
As previously mentioned, I was sitting right next to them. If we were strangers in a bar they would’ve accused me of invading their personal space. If we were in a TB ward half of a sneeze would’ve infected all four of us.
And yet, in that one moment of perceived “need” (quotes intentional) what word came out of all three mouths at exactly the same moment?
Trying to use my best inside voice I said, “HEY. I’m right here! Why are you screaming for Mom when I’m right here! Whatever it is you need help with, I can help you! I’m really good at math, I was the eighth best artist in my Cub Scout Troop, and since I was the one who NAMED you Josephine, believe me when I say that I know how to spell it!”
So much for my inside voice.
During the brief moment of silence that followed, I swear I saw my three children glancing sideways at each other, sharing a secretive look that seemed to say, “We can wait no longer. The time has finally come to tell him”.
After clearing her throat, my five year old spoke up in that Cindy Lou Who voice of hers and said, “Daaaaaddeee……. these are pwoblems onwy Mommy can undewstand. Can you pwease go get hew?”
Knowing defeat when I smell it I said, “Uh, yeah. Sure. Let me go get Mom.”
On one level, as an enlightened, “can-do”, 21st Century kind of Dad, it’s more than a little disappointing to know that no matter how hard you try, you absolutely, positively cannot compete with Mom.
You’re a front yard garage sale overflowing with sweat stained tee-shirts and used tennis shoes. She’s the runway at a high market Paris fashion show.
You’re a grade school production of the Muppet Movie. She’s the Broadway version of “Cats”.
You are John Oates. She is Daryl Hall.
Or as NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt once put it, “Second place is just the first place loser.”
And for all the great things Dad-ville has to offer, make no mistake: it is eternally mired in second place.
On the other hand, it is gratifying to know that both nature and nurture have connected my children to the woman who was brave enough and selfless enough to carry them in her body for nine months and then suffer through the joyful agony of passing something the size of a watermelon through an opening the size of a flexi-straw.
I suppose like a lot of men, I’ve been trained to believe that being second best is a failure of the highest order. But after 10 years in “Dad-ville”, I’ve learned that parenting isn’t a competition. My kids need me, and love me, and probably even respect me from time to time. But the fact that I’ll always be a distant second to Mom isn’t a reflection on my inabilities.
It’s just one of very few examples in today’s world where everything is exactly as it should be.