Thursday, June 12, 2014

Fathers watch their kids grow -- and grow with them

A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on Please check out the site.
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science has an exhibit that allows you to spin a dial and zoom in on the smallest particles of the universe. Spin the dial the other direction and you pull back like a camera, and the things we consider huge – the sun, our galaxy, Donald Trump’s ego – become tiny and eventually disappear.

It’s really fascinating. It can also be frightening, because after a few minutes of experiencing the scale of the universe, I stepped back and thought, “wow.”

And then … “Hey, where are my kids?”

Geez. Look away for a minute and my three sons have wandered away. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find them in the “Being Human” area, gawking at anatomical statues and preparing to pepper me with questions. Loudly, of course, because that’s how they operate.

That, to me, is parenthood. Or at least part of it.
* * *

As Father’s Day approaches, I appreciate all of it, especially after the museum’s reminder that I’m a tiny blip in the universe. Because when it comes to the basic human desire of finding purpose in life and making an impact, dads are blessed with a huge advantage:

The tinier blips looking up to us.

Obviously, you don’t need kids to make an impact on the world. But for parents, the opportunity is in front of us every day, right at our fingertips that curl around junior-blip’s hand. We’re like a baseball player in a batting cage, getting chance after chance to make a connection. Even when we miss, another pitch is on the way.

Sometimes the pitches are like knee-buckling curve balls. Kids get sick in the middle of the night; they find ways to break bones and they create some of the most awkward moments of our lives. My youngest son had a nice run a few years ago of needing to use the bathroom, urgently, about five minutes into every family outing. And he once announced the success of his bathroom visit to everyone in a restaurant.

That didn’t compare to when my oldest son, at age 4, had a meltdown in a restaurant. He slid off his chair during the tantrum, and as he fell to the ground, a slice of pizza sailed through the air. The restaurant, perhaps cursed by our visit, closed about a year later.

Even the cringe-worthy scenes of parenthood eventually become precious, or at least hilarious. The moments of frustration mix with the memories of holding your baby for the first time, the first steps, the first “Mama” and “Dada” and the other firsts that parents wish could last forever.

* * *
Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. Time passes and the kids keep moving forward, learning and experimenting, succeeding and failing. They keep growing.

But so do their parents, because kids are like terrific self-improvement guidebooks. They teach you about sacrifice, responsibility, forgiveness and how to delicately apply Band-Aids. They encourage you to take yourself less seriously, which is a must when your son gives you a serious look and says, “Dad, your head is really shiny.” 

You’re also a role model, of course. And when you know the kids are watching you, and doing what you do, and saying what you say, and living like you live, it makes you try a little harder. Kids are also the ultimate life coaches when it comes to patience because, well I guess I don’t need to explain.

And I’m not sure I can explain some of the feelings of being a father. It’s hard to describe the love you feel when your child gives you a bear hug, or grabs your hand for reassurance, or runs to you to celebrate an achievement. A dad gets to live as both child and adult, reliving the best moments of his childhood while helping create those moments in the next generation.

To me, that’s the biggest part of parenthood. And it’s the best part. The part that makes you feel like more than a blip in the universe.
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