19 June 2009

Daddy's Day

Elijah was in the garage the other day, seeing what trouble he could find. Before I caught up to him, he had discovered my stash....of little green army men.

He was chewing on one (or maybe picking his teeth with the bayonet, I don't know), and had three others in his hand. I'm not sure he grabbed a complete fire team, or if it was a mixed unit, but we'll probably cover that in a few years.

I gently took his arm, took Sergeant Bayonet out of his mouth, and put the rest of the soldiers back into the bag.

"Maybe later, buddy, when you can throw marbles at them, okay?" I said, as I guided him to the car, our original destination.

I chuckled a bit when I reflected on the moment.

How hilarious is it, really, when a 24 year old man still has his army men stored at his parents house? How strange is it for that same man, at 26, moving all his toys into his new house?

How cool is it that that same man, now 31, can someday throw marbles at his army men with his son?

I have a massive Star Wars action figure collection (ebay and retirement. That's all I'm sayin').

I kept all my Lego's. And occasionally still buy Lego's.

My excuse always was that I would have them around for my kids to play with. Now it's not an excuse.

I was reading the other day in the paper an article on how today's "New Dad" is one who sacrifices career advancement and places a good portion of his time and effort into raising his children. "New Dad" doesn't mind changing diapers and giving baths. "New Dad" is more willing to help out around the house, and take part in kid's activities.

Isn't that always what Daddy has been?

The article was talking about the new trend in society where men, traditionally the outside the home breadwinners, are getting more and more involved in the inside the home stuff. Gone are the days of Dad coming home from work, eating dinner, and sitting in front of the tube while his kids don't bother him.

But I think being involved is where Daddy always was.

My Dad changed diapers. He had to, it was a matter of necessity. Four kids and two parents who work means that whoever is around gets the job. My Dad made it to school functions. My Dad played with all of us. My Dad never checked out when he got home.

This domestic involvement is nothing new to me. Growing up, all the Dads in my family were involved. And now their sons are becoming Daddies themselves, and they're involved.

No, "New Dad" is "Old Dad" is "Always Dad".

What is changing is not the role of Dad, but society's view of what that role should be.

For a long time, we have convinced ourselves that the role of Dad in the family is to make the money and keep the peace. Dad did that by working long hours and yelling when kids made noise. If it got really bad, the belt would come out, or the paddle, or the wooden spoon, or whatever. That's it. Dad's job was to keep kid's quiet, and kid's job was to keep Dad from reaching for the wooden spoon.

But that was never Daddy's job. That was the job of a father.

Daddy has a far more difficult job, and therefore the title of Daddy is much more coveted and valuable than father.

Any male has the capacity to be a father. But only real men can be Daddies. Andrew Galasetti, entrepreneur and writer, said in a recent blog post,

"“What’s the difference?” you might be asking. Well, a father is a proper term for a male that produces a child. But in the eyes of a kid, a father is a “dad” or “daddy.” It’s a name that has to be earned; earned by being supportive of your child both financially and mentally. You don’t become a “dad” without working hard for it or without being there whenever your kids need you."

The entire post can be read here.

In effect, what men are doing now is rediscovering what Daddies always have been: A loving male role model who takes an active role in the raising and care of his children.

What we are learning, in the article, is that this active role is way more than simply putting food on the table, or money in the bank account.

We're ignoring the societal pressure to conform to the old stereotype of Dad and masculine identity. We're blazing a new trail through fatherhood, one dirty diaper at a time.

I have always thought that it would be awesome if I could play video games and goof off with my Lego sets and play with all my toys for the rest of my life. Now I can, and I have a partner in crime (and another on the way!). We can have our cake and eat it too, playing with all our kid's toys, while at the same time raising them up as strong, upstanding future adults who will eventually replace us in society. How awesome is that?

The other night, we went to the beach. Sand and water and the occasional gull feather will keep Eli occupied for hours. All we have to do is make sure he doesn't walk out too deep and fall over. Just next to us on the beach, there was a young boy playing and splashing in the water. He was desperately trying to get his "dad's" attention, but "dad" was more interested in playing kissyface with his-I'll say wife for the benefit of a doubt-than he was in what his son was doing. It broke Shan and I's heart, to watch this little boy full of so much energy and excitement, calling out to dad over and over, only to get one word replies.

Eli and I were building a sand pile to turn into a castle, and it caught this little dude's attention. So I asked if he wanted to help build it. Of course he did. He even found a neat feather to put on top of it, and he found a bunch of shiny stones for his "dad's" rock collection. His "dad" merely smirked at every stone the kid brought over.

The worst part about this is that this kid will grow up effectively without a Daddy, and at the same time, the father thinks he's being a good Daddy by taking his kid to the beach.

When I was DJing for wedding receptions, one of the rules my company made was "Be There".

Obviously, in order to DJ we have to be physically present at the event. But it took more than this to fulfill the requirement of Be There. Be There meant that we were fully there physically and mentally: not just physically present, but focused on the event at hand. Be There meant fully available for your client's and their guest's needs. You can't Be There if you're texting or talking on your cell phone. You can't Be There if your too busy flirting with the cute bridesmaids. You can't Be There if you're trying to scam a free meal from the caterers.

The same holds true for Daddies. You can't be a Daddy if you can't leave work at work. You can't be a Daddy if you're playing kissyface while your child plays alone on the beach. You can't be a Daddy if you don't live near your children.

You can't be a Daddy if you don't Be There.

Like a Marine officer's sword, the title Daddy is earned, never given. And it will not be given unless we Be There for the job at hand.

And that job is most likely a dirty diaper.



Theda said...

Great stuff, Jason. I was thinking about writing for Father's Day also, and when I read your blog, I was inspired to write as well. You are an inspiration in the way that you and Shannon love and care for Eli.

Shannon said...

You are a wonderful Daddy!
We love you,
Eli & Mommy

Ted M. Gossard said...

Amen. Really good post and deserves, and it would be nice if it was in every newspaper in the country.

There's no doubt that being there for our children requires that we're completely present for them. I think this would be particularly challenging for some men due to work that requires travelling.

Again good post, and thanks.

The Wingnut said...

Ted- I agree that jobs that require travel are very hard on families. But what matters most in those situations is how you are when you are home. Children shouldn't have to fight for parent's attention with the TV, or the car, or the computer.

Theda- Thanks! We don't feel inspired all the time. We just try to love Eli the way we would want to be loved.

Shan- I am only able to be a wonderful Daddy because Eli has a wonderful Mommy. I love you!


Anonymous said...

Ok Jasperse, it has been a month since you posted something. I miss reading your Blog - give me something to read!