“Now listen. Mommy is at the store. The baby is asleep. Daddy is going upstairs to watch the Giants game and take a nap. DO NOT make a lot of noise, do not come upstairs and do not wake me up unless you have an emergency. Fighting is not an emergency. Trying to get the gun into the soldier’s hand is not an emergency. Emergencies have blood, throw up or flames. Understand?”
“Yes Daddy. But can you play with us first?”
And with that, I was all set (or more likely being set up), and I wearily (and warily) headed to my favorite Sunday afternoon spot on the couch. I knew that the likelihood of my actually getting an hour of undisturbed sleep was tenuous at best, but I needed to give it a try. I might as well have been warning them not to breathe, since the prospects of my two oldest boys not making loud noises or coming up with a “problem” is remote. The Giants/Saints game had started at 1:00 and although it was a big game, it created the perfect background noise for napping. (A well learned legacy handed down by my father over the years that I hope to continue with my sons once they realize that naps are to be cherished.)
The Yankees kept me up past midnight last night in the ALCS against the Angels. I had only survived to the 11th inning but watched the end on TIVO this morning with tired nervous eyes glued to the screen and relieved that they pulled it out in the 13th. I’d just returned from three days in Baltimore at a conference for work and this morning at church taught Matthew’s Sunday School class about Day 3 in Creation (land, plants and sea). I was beat and needed a rest.
As I settled in for my snooze, I suspiciously eyed the hallway as someone bounded up the basement steps. “Go back downstairs!” I barked. I’m finding that it is harder, as the boys get older, to find the energy and inspiration to play with them when they want me to. Which seems like a lot. Sometimes I really don’t feel like it. When they were toddlers, bringing them outside to play while I did yard work wasn’t possible, because they required constant attention. “Don’t swallow that rock. Don’t wander out into the road. Why are you crying?” Now, at 4 ½ and 6, they can entertain themselves much better. I can send them outside to play in the yard together and they generally keep an eye on each other. (Or hurt each other – it’s 50/50.) Even when I’m home with the baby, it’s tempting to stick him in the bouncer and let him play rather than always be down on the floor with him. (This blog doesn’t write itself…)
Am I a bad dad? Maybe I’m getting old. Or perhaps they’re just not as novel as they used to be. As they get older and start having friends around to keep them entertained, where will Dad fit in? Will they still beg for my time or will I need to fight for it – a long slippery slope until I look up and they’re all headed off to college. Why do some dads lose touch? Is it because the kids push them away or do the dads get too comfortable with not having to do everything and just slowly fade into the shadows?
Because some days the kids are just SO frustrating. They won’t shut up, constantly interrupting me, arguing with what I tell them to do, not coming when I call them, never wanting to clean up. Making me pay $10/hr. for the privilege to go out alone with my wife. They always want the book that is in the basement at bedtime and never want to wear the pajamas I suggest. It’s hard, and it’s tiring. But I think that’s why, like most important things in life, being a parent is more than a feeling. If it wasn’t, most of us would be long gone. But for all those times where you really don’t feel like it, there’s that moment when he’ll shuffle over when I’m not expecting it. He’ll look up at me with big blue eyes, wrap his arms tightly around my neck and with a groan in his voice from the strength of his hug, whisper “Daddy, I just really love you.” And that, is so much more than a feeling too.