Some people don’t think men do much for their families. A lot of TV shows and films portray fathers as ignorant or uninvolved. Unfortunately, their caricatures are based on the way a lot of real fathers have acted.
But most fathers that I know actually make sacrifices of time, money and convenience for their families, just like moms do. They make themselves do things they don’t want to do, to care for their wife and children. Those dads go an extra mile beyond their comfort zone, doing whatever it takes to please their families and keep them safe. Without fear of contradiction or bragging, I feel like I have been one of those dads for the last two months.
Things have gotten really busy in our house since we got our foster child, Noah (not his real name). Nicki was already watching two other children during the day, and suddenly she was running around from one chore to the next, trying to keep the older ones from bickering while keeping the curious babies off of each other’s faces and eyes. Laundry, meals and dishes suddenly compounded into larger, less manageable piles.
So whenever I was home, I helped with a lot of cleaning, organizing, brainstorming, and riot control. This was on top of my writing and teaching, and some writing tasks had to be set aside for a while. After the first couple of weeks, we made some headway, but we still had a long way to go to restore order in our once-peaceful home.
When I wake up
I’m gonna be the man who wakes up next to you
When I go out
Well, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who goes along with you
Noah cried every time we put him down for a nap or down for the night. He couldn’t calm himself enough to sleep. Since our floor is so squeaky, we move with catlike stealth whenever he finally quiets down, because we know he’ll start flipping out again the moment we squeak past his bedroom. One night, we were trapped in the upstairs bathroom for twenty minutes, waiting for him to go out.
Bathtime became a major challenge. Noah is very stocky and heavy for a one-year old, looking more like he’s eighteen months. Worse, he’s proficient at squirming when he wants to escape. You can imagine the difficulty of lifting such a child into a bath, scrubbing him, washing his thick, curly hair, then maneuvering him back onto dry land without letting him slip out of your arms to thud onto the floor. On my first attempt, I felt like I was wrestling a greased pig. Nicki keeps threatening to let me give both children a bath by myself one night.
When I’m working
Yes, I know I’m gonna be
And when the money
Comes in for the work I do
I’ll pass almost every penny on to you
Then the floodwaters rose. Heavy rains flooded our basement, so we had to mop up with a dry-vac and a lot of towels, which we later had to wash. We moved around a lot of items from our floor, including some cardboard boxes that had gotten soaked on the bottom. It was really tiring, but I felt a certain sense of accomplishment from just surviving and cleaning up the mess. Just to get through one crisis after another and to see our family and our house still standing.
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door
I even had a remarkable breakthrough in becoming a “Mr. Fix-It”! I’m not a handyman type – at all. I have almost no interest in learning how cars or appliances or cell phones actually work, let alone how to fix them when they break. So Nicki and I knew we were in trouble when our air conditioner started leaking. It was too big a job for her to figure out (she’s definitely the “Mrs. Fix-It” of the house!) and it was too expensive a repair for us to afford. So we had to resolve to do without the AC for the summer and use lots of fans for survival in the hottest days. Or just lay down towels and dry-vac up the water puddles that would accumulate.
So last month, while vacuuming up the latest spill, I realized that I needed to clear some junk out of the center of the room, instead of continuing to vacuum around it. I moved one large box, and noticed that it had been sitting on the air conditioning hose. Repairmen from a previous job had moved the box on top of the hose, which was now pinched. When I opened it up, water started moving through it. With this adjustment and some more treatment from our dry-vac and dehumidifier, we soon had a completely leak-free floor again! Problem solved!
Nicki was quite relieved and called me brilliant. (We both blissfully ignore my failure to notice a large box on our air conditioning hose before this point, because we only focus on our victories!) But she appreciates far more than my final solution to the problem. She appreciates my partnering with her to clean up the mess, day after day.
A week after all this, I proceeded to swipe my foot sideways against a wall, all but breaking my pinky toe, just before we headed to the zoo for a belated birthday and Mother’s Day outing. (I think I was attempting to slide a toy aside. The throbbing pain erased my memory of the reason I was sliding my foot sideways.) The next week, I was mowing our lawn when the bottom fell out. Literally, a piece of my lawnmower fell onto the grass! Not realizing this object was a hot metal part that once belonged to my lawnmower, I picked it up to move it aside, scorching my thumb and forefinger.
But I still live, and I’m still a dad, working at whatever’s needed to take care of my family, one dangerous task at a time.
When I come home
I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the man who comes back home to you
And when I grow old
Well, I know I’m gonna be
It feels good to be a dad.
Happy Father’s Day!
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Thursday, June 16th, 2011