Parenting is not a spectator sport.
Two dads at the park
He sat at the edge of the playground fiddling with his phone and flicking ashes off his cigarette as his toddler played in the sandbox. Totally absorbed in his phone life, he didn't notice his son pick something brown and crusty from the hole he'd dug. Right before he popped the mystery object in his mouth another dad sitting nearby said, "Hey little Buddy, let's play catch. Toss that over here." Delighted with this game, the tiny boy tossed his find. The dad "missed" the catch and said to phone-dad, "Dude, I think your son was about to eat a cat turd. You might want to check that out."
Phone dad barely glanced up, before shouting at his little boy, "That's disgusting. Why the hell are you grabbing sh** like that? You know better." He didn't pick the cat turd up, didn't wash his son's hands and didn't take him to a cleaner place to play. Nope, he kept on texting. His toddler, still so young that putting stuff in his mouth was instinctual, kept on digging. The other dad shook his head, picked up the poop, tossed a few baby wipes in phone-dad's direction and took his son to the swings. Guess which dad I'd want raising my kid?
Two dads at the airport
One sat in chair while his wife held a baby and struggled to keep her two-year-old from ramming her stroller into strangers. When a certain odor ewafted from the baby's diaper, Mom asked Dad to keep an eye on their toddler while she took the baby for a diaper change. Dad's response was, "Take her with you. I'm tired." Mom grabbed a duffle bag, the stroller, her two-year-old and the baby and trudged off to take care of business.
On the other side of the waiting area, another family waited for their flight. Mom held the baby while Dad chased their daughter, trying to tire her out before their flight. When he chased her back to Mom, he too caught a wiff, reached into his backpack and pulled out a Ziplock bag with diapers and wipes. "Duuuude, that's a stinker," he said as he took his baby from Mom's arms and headed off to change the diaper. Give this dad extra points for having his own diaper stash in his backpack. Most guys depend on Mom to carry supplies.
Two dads in the delivery room
One rubbed his wife's back, wiped her brow, matched her breathing, walked the halls and was totally present hour after hour. The other dad caught up on his email, watched sports on his iPad and occasionally looked up and said, "Good job, Honey. Don't forget to breathe." The woman's mother did the rubbing, brow wiping and walking. Her husband didn't even get in the game when his baby was being born. I'm glad this mother had someone by her side but I felt sorry for the dad. Unlike the father who labored with his wife contraction after contraction and cried, whooped and hollered when his son was born, the other dad was barely present and didn't seem particularly impressed by his daughter's birth.
Maybe it's just a personality thing. Maybe he just keeps his feelings to himself. I wondered though, is this the way he'll be as a father – more of a spectator in his children's lives than a parenting partner? I hope not, because the dads who are totally involved with backpacks full of diapers are the ones who make the most positive impacts on their children's lives. They're also the ones most deeply affected by their children and not one of those fathers regrets that for a moment. The ones who aren't really there, either physically or mentally –they totally miss out on one of the best parts of living – Being a dad.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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