I believe in fatherhood. This is not easy. Sure, I’m glorified when I make my two-year-old son laugh like a drunk or carry him around the house on my back, but when life throws Ian a hardball and his lips turn blue from crying, there’s only one person in the world he wants, and it ain’t daddy. I may as well disappear.
Some fathers accept this as the natural order of things but I’ve struggled with it. We moved to a new town this year and jobs have been scarce, so I’ve stayed home with Ian while my wife works. My transformation to stay-home dad was soul-searching – it still is — but I’ve made huge strides and I take pride in Ian’s growth. That’s why it hurts when Ian falls and he still calls for his mother even when she’s not around. You want to feel inadequate? Try being the dad who used a wallet photo of his wife to calm his screaming son in the mall. Yes, I can lift Ian above my head, but if I can’t comfort him, what am I?
Maybe I’ve been too hard on myself. I’m measuring my parenting against the woman who carried Ian in the womb. She’s preceded by countless millennia of stay-home moms. If soothing Ian isn’t an inherent skill for her, she’s got a heck of a head start over me. It’s easy and even logical for fathers to resign themselves to the hierarchy and let mom handle the tears. They figure they’ll forge those emotional bonds with their child later. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.
But I’m not ready to write off the two-year-old universe to mothers just yet. After all, as stay-home dad I have no choice but to stand toe-to-toe with Ian’s needs every day and slug it out as best I can. I’ve learned a few things on the playgrounds the second time around, the most important being that despite our shortfalls I believe a two-year-old needs his dad more than ever. Mothers are beautiful people who feel their child’s pain, but theirs is often a hovering kind of love. I’ve seen too many nervous women follow their two-year-olds around the playground. He might not fall, but when you clamor up the ladder with him it also takes away his achievement.
So maybe there’s design in the disconnect between father and son. I know a child needs those moments when he faces his hurdles alone. Yes, Ian needs his mother, but I’ve learned that he has moments just for me, too. They come when he reaches the top of a ladder he’s climbed all by himself, and he looks for me with a smile as wide as the sky.
“See?” I call from below when our eyes meet. “I knew you could do it.” At times like this I believe I’ve made the future a little brighter. And Ian believes in himself.
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