[Today’s tale is in the Chronicle. Typically, this is where I would put a link to the Chronicle article. However, the Seminole Chronicle is closing its doors, and I doubt that link will work for much longer… So here is the entire tale. Enjoy!]
Prior to becoming a dad, I knew absolutely nothing about little kids. I didn’t know how to hold them. I didn’t know how to sing to them. I didn’t even know how to talk to them. As far as I was concerned, a baby was just something you tried to convince your sister not to hand to you.
When I became a dad, I figured things would just work themselves out. I mean, how tough could it be?
My wake-up call came the very first day of being a parent. Some of my wife’s friends were visiting us in the hospital, and my son was crying his eyes out.
“For goodness sakes,” a lady said, taking the little guy out of my arms. She held my son close and did a grandmotherly rocking sort of motion. He quieted down almost immediately, and a general relieved sort of chuckle ran through the room.
I didn’t join in the chuckling, though, because I was too busy trying not to explode.
It took me several days to figure out why I got so angry, but I finally did: she’d put herself between me and my son. Worse, I’d let her.
That was my wake-up call. It wasn’t about being unprepared, but about being passive and about assuming things would work out. No more.
Yes, I didn’t know anything about being a dad. Yes, I had none of the skills that I was supposed to have. So what? I wasn’t interested in being generically good at parenting. I didn’t care about being able to quiet someone else’s baby. I wanted to be my son’s dad and to build a specific relationship between him and me.
What happened next ended up being pretty funny. My wife would gently sing our son to sleep with classic lullabies, while I’d do a whispered rendition of the Spiderman theme song: “Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can …”
After baths with her, the little guy would get toweled dry with hugs and tickles. After baths with me, he’d get wrapped up in the towel so tight he couldn’t see, and then I’d fly him around the house, pretending to go through doors and windows and out over the neighborhood.
She’d walk the neighborhood with him in a stroller, talking and chatting with neighbors. I’d walk with him on my shoulders, tripping and stumbling and pretending to fall while he laughed and held tightly to my hands.
My friends would get nervous at the prospect of being alone with their kids. I looked forward to the one-on-one time.
In 2005, a friend at work pointed out that I was the strangest dad she’d ever seen. Shortly after that, I started writing Daddy Tales — stories about my life as a dad.
The newspaper column started about a year later. At first, I was worried about it distracting me from my family, but just the opposite happened.
I was determined never to write anything that would embarrass them or make them feel bad. Instead, I was going to celebrate the quirkiness of our life and write about lessons I learned and celebrate moments we shared.
Looking at my life through that lens has had a wonderful effect and added a shading to my days that I hadn’t anticipated.
Where is this long and winding tale leading? To a rare piece of Daddy Tales advice: Whether you’re a parent, a grandparent or none of the above, throw out the standard approaches. Actively pursue the relationships you want. Make them individual. Celebrate their weirdness and recognize your mistakes.
I guess that’s not a typical dad lesson, but let’s face it — if it were, it probably wouldn’t be coming from me.