Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day: The rollercoaster for dads is worth it

A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com. Please check out the site.
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During my son’s recent visit to the pediatrician, the doctor checked his eyes and ears, heart and lungs, and everything that’s part of the annual checkup for a 7-year-old. But before pronouncing my son ready to roll, the doc should’ve checked on one more thing:
 
Nathan’s schedule for later that day.

Not even two hours after the “well visit,” with his lips still red from the customary goodbye lollipop, Nathan broke his arm. He was playing football at the park and slipped and fell while making a catch. The official family description, which I provided on our next, much-too-soon visit to the doctor, was that Nathan “dropped like a sack of potatoes.”
 
An expensive sack of potatoes.

In the span of five years, that’s four broken bones for my three sons. Ryan, age 12, has broken his nose and foot. Cooper, age 9, has only broken a pinkie, but it required a cast to the elbow. It required two casts, actually, because Cooper was 4 years old at the time and banged the first one around like a Tonka truck.

The boys when they were a little younger ...
and more willing to be in photos.
These are the moments a father remembers. They are not, however, the kinds of moments offered up on Father’s Day, when we celebrate the filtered, rose-tinted, Hallmark-ified version of being Dad. It’s a day for fatherhood’s greatest hits, such as holding your newborn baby, hearing “Da-da” for the first time, and seeing your kids grow and learn and hit milestones -- instead of each other.

That makes sense, of course. It’s a day of macaroni art and warm fuzzies. But the Father’s Day fluff reminds me of something expectant parents always hear:

“Cherish every moment. It all goes by so fast.”

Got it, thanks. But when the baby won’t sleep, and therefore you can’t sleep, or eat, or even think, you only cherish the thought that the moment will eventually end. “Maybe I’m doing this wrong,” you think, as your precious gift from God seems like a Ginsu knife or an infomercial vegetable slicer.

You know, it looked a lot different on TV. So much easier.

There’s nothing easy about fatherhood. Even if you know what you’re doing, and I don’t think any of us really does, you’re just learning on the fly. You’re like a new employee every day, wandering around the office, asking if anyone knows the copier code. Fortunately, Moms usually know all the codes.

As a dad, you learn about tantrums, timeouts and training wheels. You learn about patience, responsibility and sacrifice. You learn how to act in front of your kids, including Oscar-worthy portrayals of someone interested in playing another game of Candyland.

“Where does all the time go?” you wonder, sometimes aloud, scaring yourself. Then you’ll remember how much time you spent assuring your child that self-flushing toilets are not evil. You’ll remember the time looking for lost shoes, toys, books and blankies. You’ll remember checking for fevers, cleaning up a kid who gets sick, and then cleaning yourself up after becoming collateral damage.

You’ll remember saying “clean your room” and “don’t throw balls toward the window” and giving ultimatums that ended with counting to 10, sometimes using fractions. You’ll remember dodging questions such as, “yeah, but how does the mom’s egg get fertilized?”

For all those who gave me advice years ago, thanks. But I didn’t, and I still don’t, cherish all the moments.

Those esteemed elders were right, though. It does all go by too fast.

I remember sitting in a rocking chair with my oldest son, who is now about to be a teenager but was then an infant, looking up at me as I tried to feed him. He was very particular about the angle of the bottle, and when it wasn’t right, he just turned his head away and waited for someone more competent to take my place. Thank goodness Mom is so on the ball, I told him, because Dad’s a little iffy on all of this.

I’m still a little iffy on a lot of things. But parenthood, while unquestionably complicating your life, can simplify your world. It’s easy to find meaning and purpose when your child looks to you for an explanation, or reassurance, or just a hand to hold.

Nathan held my hand as we walked into the X-ray lab, where it was confirmed that my little sack of potatoes had a small, nondisplaced fracture just below his right shoulder. No cast was needed, but the arm had to be immobilized for six weeks. Nathan walked out of the office with another lollipop and a sling that was soon decorated with sports stickers and Angry Birds drawings.

Six weeks later, Nathan was done with the sling. He might try to turn it into a slingshot, he said, to create some sort of live-action version of the Angry Birds video game. I’m not sure how that will work, but it sounds like we might be moving away from a broken bone and toward a broken window.

It will be another moment to cherish. At least years from now.

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