Thursday, October 10, 2013

Assuaging the Doubts of Single Fatherhood

     All parents have doubts.  We sit around our apartments or trailers or little bitty houses and look around and ask "Is this it?"  "Is this really the best I can do for my child?"  Or we put in another long night at the office and kiss our kids goodnight when they're already asleep and sit there watching them sleep wishing we had more time with them and ask "Is this it?"  "Is this really the best I can do for my child?"  No matter what we do or how well we do it we wonder "Is this it?  Is this really the best I can do for my child?"
     Single parents have more doubts.  When a married parent isn't at their best they have the comfort of a partner to pick up their slack.  When a single parent watches television for too long before telling their child to do their homework or in an exhausted state in the morning forgets to yell at their brat about putting socks on there isn't anyone else there to help.  Their child stays up too late or doesn't get their homework done.  Their child goes to school without socks.  Then later the parent realizes this they doubt themselves.  We single parents ask ourselves "Is this it?  Is this really the best I can do for my child?  Would my child have been better off with their other parent?"
     Single fathers have the most doubts.  We're conditioned from birth to believe that women are the better caregivers and the better parents.  Television, society both perpetuate the myth.  Even in my case, where I was raised by two parents so amazing that I'm not sure what I would have done without either of them, the belief still persists in a tiny hole in my mind that somehow gender equates to quality of parenting.  Even though I know that having a penis instead of a vagina proves nothing about how good of a parent I can be I still question myself.  I still ask "Is this it?  Is this really the best I can do for my child?  Would he be better off with his mom?  Would he be better off with a woman around?"
     I'm constantly complimented about what a good dad I am and it helps.  I tell people that is the best compliment I can receive and it is.  Still the doubt is there like a toothache or a nagging woman.  It gets me a little down sometimes and parenting is so exhausting anyway, if you're doing it right, that it's all too easy to get down.  So sometimes I have to give myself a pep talk and that what this is.  I'm not fishing for compliments or trying to convince anyone else.  I'm trying to convince myself.  I'm talking to myself, as I am during most of my blogging, but as always you're welcome to read along.

     That's Brad wearing my hat and trying to look like me.  He wouldn't want to look like dear old dad if I were so bad, would he?  It isn't what he looks like in this picture that makes me proud, though.  It's the memory of what we were doing when I took this picture.  We were listening to a talk show on the radio that had people talking about times in there lives when people have said the most without saying anything at all.  Brad saw the irony in that and laughed at it.  That alone would be enough for me to know I'm doing a good job with this one.
     It was our reaction to a particular segment of the show that makes me smile, though.  A black man was telling about his childhood attending a Catholic school in Chicago.  He had lived in a neighborhood that was mostly white to begin with and the school was ran by white nuns.  As white flight set in, though, the neighborhood changed but the staff at the school didn't.  He described the nun that ran the school as a short Irish woman that managed to carry herself in such a way that her authority was unquestioned and unchallenged by a bunch of black children.  The he talks about a morning when that short, Irish, nun walked into the class he was in carrying a box of crucifixes.  She moved a chair to the chalkboard and stood on it so she could reach the crucifix that was already hanging above.  It was a crucifix that portrayed Jesus as a blonde haired, blue eyed, white man.  The nun took that down and laid it gently in the box and her hand emerged from the box holding a crucifix that portrayed Jesus as a dark haired, black man.  She hung this above the chalkboard, stepped down from the chair, and left the room.
     Brad was quiet for a moment after hearing this story and then said, "I can see why that would be a big deal for him."  We talked for a moment about how much that would mean to a black child to be able to imagine that Jesus looked like them and he completely understood.  Then he paused again and asked, "But Dad wasn't Jesus actually brown?"  I explained to him that Middle Eastern was probably the proper way to say it but that yes Jesus probably looked a like like the current inhabitants of where he lived.  Then he paused again, spoke slowly like he does when he is trying to say something serious, and after a few false starts managed to say, "But Dad it doesn't really matter what Jesus looked like.  What matters is who he was.  Really Dad, it doesn't even matter what anyone looks like.  It's who they are."
     I beamed.  I smiled with pride both for him and myself.  These are things I've taught him but not by spelling them out for him but just through discussions and examples.  And he got it.  He freaking gets it at just eight years old.  Now my only real job is to make sure he doesn't forget it.  I'm sure there are some of you reading this that don't realize what the big deal is.  The big deal is that he was able to put himself in someone else's place and understand it.  The big deal is that he is learning facts beyond what he is told and thinking about them.  The big deal is that he is an eight year old boy who isn't superficial in the way he views people.  He's a deep little dude even if he does talk about the Legend of Zelda most of the time.
     Speaking of the Legend of Zelda, I bought him Wind Waker HD on the day it came out.  See that look on his face.  That's why I work, right there.  Sure food and electricity are nice but that joy is it man.  It is the meaning and the beginning and the end.  What I'm most proud of about that joy is my son is just as likely to feel it and express it over reaching the top of a hard rock to climb or being told he's going to see his grandparents or seeing a friend or a good book as he is over getting a new video game.  Brad is an easily joyed boy and shares that joy and that has to have something to do with me.
     There's more to that moment than just being able to buy him a game that makes me proud of my parenting.  There's a woman I've been seeing that is a woman I like to hold and talk to and hug and kiss among other things.  She wanted to see me the night that game came out.  I explained to her that I had promised my son that I would buy him the game and play it with him that night.  It seems like such an easy thing to do; keep your priorities in order and put your child first but every parent knows it isn't as simple as it sounds and every single parent knows how tempting it can be not to because we have to do it every single moment of everyday.  Still, I manage to do it pretty well and I love myself for that.
     This picture is another example of that.  It was taken by my ex-wife the last time she was in town.  We attended Brad's football game together and then both took Brad to a barbecue festival.  We got a long well and managed to keep our differences confined to joking remarks.  We get along well enough that neither of us really minded but I do think there was a point in the day where we were both thinking enough was enough.  We hung in there until Brad was done, though, because that's what was best for him.  It's good to assure him that we aren't enemies and proving that has to be a priority.
     Then the next weekend Brad and I went down to visit my ex-wife's family.  I'm not sure what to call them.  Technically they're ex-in-laws but that's one hyphen too many and besides as one of them said I didn't get divorced from them.  Whatever I call them we had a good visit and it was good to see them.  They also watched Brad overnight for me so I could visit the woman I mentioned before.  Despite what a person or two implied that wasn't the point of the visit for me.  I squeezed that woman into our weekend visiting them not the other way around.  I didn't need to drive two and a half hours away to find a a babysitter and go on a date with a woman who only live forty-five minutes from me.  Anyway, this post is supposed to be bitterness free.

     And there's the cure for bitterness right there.  Brad's team won their first game of the year last night.  My stomach was in knots until time ran out and then...well his joy in those pictures doesn't compare to mine.  If I feel like that because he feels like that then I must be some kind of father.  And this is the part where Brad would say something smart like "yeah but what kind?" and I would laugh and call him and turd and hit him in the gut.  Just like any good father would with his son.