Done and Left Undone

Icees are my white flag of surrender.

In the days before parenthood, I had no idea what breed of father I would be.  I knew what I wanted to be.  The kind who made up elaborate games that his children would play for hours on end.  The kind who explored the backyard with his kids.  And went for long hikes in every park.  Angled perch from the neighbor’s pond.  Had adventures that future generations would canonize in song.  Ran through sprinklers, read timeless classics, learned foreign languages, and developed affordable sources of renewable energy.  I mean, just for starters.

And then there are days like Thursday.  I came home from work knowing that I would be flying solo with the kids.  My wife had to go up to the church to paint an ark.   It had been one of those days for me… the kind we all have occasionally.  When there are fires to put out and a thousand things to keep up with.  And it doesn’t feel like any progress has been made at the end of a full work day.  I try to leave all that behind when I get home, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

I was in no mood to be Superdad.  My mind was in another place, and my enthusiasm for making up games was running on empty.  Besides, my kids have caught on that my collection of “original” games is like the boxed set of Steven Seagal movies.  Only the props and setting change.

There we were.  No interaction.  Just sharing some real estate.  They had been playing video games so long that the three-year-old had this glazed look in his eyes.  I knew we were toast when his farewell shout to the UPS man was, “I make your big truck dead.”

We’re often told that stay-at-home parents struggle with guilt.  They’re supposed to be special agents with a daily itinerary of ingenious projects and developmental exercises.  And that’s a lot to live up to, especially when “one of those days” comes along.  But spouses who work outside the home feel some of the same guilt.  We’re the relief pitchers the team can always count on.  We may not give you a lot of innings, but we’re expected to have great stuff on the mound.  At times, however, the only stuff we’ve got is mediocre.

That was me a few days ago.  Actually, that’s been me more times than I care to remember.  Tired, in my bones and my spirit.  Distracted by hundreds of thoughts and demands.  Ashamed that all I was doing was taking up space.  So I did the only thing I knew to do.  I gave up.  I bought a round of Icees on the house.  Like I said earlier, that’s my method of admitting defeat — my confession that I have nothing of substance to offer.  Just a 14 ounce cup of chilled compensation for my faults.

It’s always a punch to the gut when I realize I’m not actually steering the aircraft of human development for these three young lives.  I’m just holding onto the wing.  And that sends me spiraling into all sorts of anxious spheres.  I worry too much about who they are today… and who they’ll be tomorrow.  I grow impatient, mostly with myself.  I expect too much from them.  Then again, I don’t expect nearly enough sometimes.  I try to clutch whatever parental wisdom and advice I can, but my mental file system amounts to a Trapper Keeper in a wind tunnel.  I forget to breathe.  I forget to see and listen.  Mostly, I forget to enjoy the magnificent mess of it all.  And for 10 minutes on a Thursday evening, three chattering mouths perch silently atop red straws.  As they sip slushed syrup from the corner gas station, I pause just long enough to make amends with my own ineptitude.

And that pause does wonders for the soul.  It pardons a legion of sins and shortcomings.  It opens the door for fear to exit — and for assurance to enter.  It says that survival is a reasonable goal on some days.  And it whispers gentle reminders that brilliant moments of fatherhood will come… occasionally.

I may not be able to live in that pause.  But I’m trying to live from it.