As I piloted the van through the downtown streets of Ann Arbor, The Dixie Chicks blaring from the speakers and my friend Lisa navigating from the passenger seat, I heard the familiar ting of my text alert. Finally! I looked at my phone and my heart dropped:
“Hi Honey…..don’t panic….We’re in the ER and Cy is getting a CT scan. He tripped at the playground and hit his neck on the metal stairs. He’s okay…we’re just making sure there isn’t any serious damage.”
Don’t panic? (He knows me too well.) An impossible request when my sweet boy is in an emergency room three hours away and I am blissfully cruising toward a night off from motherhood. The fear rushed in immediately, followed quickly by an overwhelming sense of guilt. He needed his Mama--to hold his hand, to dry his tears, to tell him he was going to be fine. I looked for a place to turn around, prepared to ignore the speed limit signs all the way back home. But then I got this text:
“Don’t come home. He is going to be just fine. It was just a little scary at first, but he’s talking and laughing like normal now. The scan will confirm that his neck is a little swollen, but no real damage.”
Followed by this one:
“I wasn’t even going to tell you until after we left the ER, but you kept calling and texting. Have fun at the concert, we will see you in the morning.”
Now, THAT, my friends, is a text from a veteran Dad.
To reinforce his argument that the situation was under control, he sent a picture of all three kids sitting on a hospital bed, eating popsicles and watching SpongeBob. It didn’t even matter that my middle daughter’s long hair hadn’t been brushed all day. I didn’t even care that my baby wasn’t wearing the clothes I’d left out for her, clad in a matching pajama top and bottom instead (not the ones she’d worn the night before, but a fresh pair of pajamas picked out by Daddy for a day at the playground). They were happy and safe and Daddy was the real MVP. And, he was right, the scan came back normal and soon after he whisked them all off for ice cream and a trip to the video store. Crisis averted.
Dads are amazing like that. They have this innate ability to bring calm to the chaos and order to the out-of-control. They step in and handle it. And then they stop for ice cream on the way home.
I’ve been surrounded by great examples of fatherhood at every stage of my life. I was blessed with a Grandpa who regularly took me fishing and blackberry picking and never missed a single ball game. He spent hours talking with me about world events and my plans for the future, using his reporter skills to question and analyze every angle of every decision. It is from him that I learned the importance of critical thought and the value of an open mind. I never beat him at finishing the crossword puzzles from the newspaper and I only came close to beating him in a race around the ice rink once. He gave me my first copy of The Hobbit and shared my love for Harry Potter. Many of my sweetest childhood memories were spent walking in the woods by his side. I only wish he were still here to share these lessons and moments with my own children—they would’ve adored him as much as I did.
My grandpa’s involvement and devotion were traits passed down to my own Dad. My Dad was the guy who organized the neighborhood wiffle-ball game and coached the little league softball team. He was the rules enforcer, the curfew police, and the supplier of allowance money, giving my sister and I each a ledger from The Bank of Dad from which we could make deposits and withdrawals to learn the concept of balancing an account. My Dad is a natural educator, always looking for the “teachable moment” in everyday life. In fifth grade he took me to school early one morning to retrieve and complete the homework I’d forgotten there the night before. In the parking lot, he made me sign a contract stating that I would take full responsibility of any future missing assignments should I ever neglect to bring my work home again. This early morning trip would be a one-time event. Lest you think he played the role of constant taskmaster, let me reassure you that he also relished the role of Embarasser-in-Chief. In 7th grade, when a pre-teen girl would rather die than have her parents drop her off in the front of the middle school, my Dad would let me off at the corner and then follow slowly beside me in his truck, honking and waving and yelling out the window, “Daddy loves you!” What was the lesson here? Some possible options include: 1. To learn not to take myself so seriously, 2. To urge me to laugh in the face of peer pressure and judgmental adolescents, or 3. To know that, even if I didn’t always want him there, he would always be there, by my side and cheering me on.
Whenever I am faced with what seems to be an insurmountable obstacle, he is the voice inside my head urging me to keep pushing, keep climbing, keep going. I still call him when weighting out the options of an impending decision and he’s the leader of a half-dozen minions who call him Papa and follow him around in the woods. And, despite his questionable fashion choices and collection of garage sale shirts, he is the coolest guy in town.
As any mother will tell you, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of a father in the life of his children. His daughters will measure every boy by the standard he sets; his sons will emulate his actions and follow his lead. Like millions of women before me, I fell in love with my husband all over again the day I saw him hold our firstborn in his arms. He is the one that carries their little bodies upstairs when they’ve fallen asleep on the couch, the one who will teach them about football and how to drive a car, and the one they will call years from now when they run out of gas on the highway. He will be their provider and their protector long after they leave our nest.
As I write this, the father of my children is outside playing catch with our oldest. Our boy fell in love with baseball this summer and, every night after dinner, the two of them grab their gloves and head outside to practice. Looking out from my kitchen window as I wash the dishes, I can see the memories being made and the lessons being learned. In the collection of mental snapshots I keep close to my heart, this is the good stuff.
That’s what Dads do. They fuel your fire and encourage your passions. They lift you up into trees and stand on the ground, far enough away to give you a taste of independence but close enough to catch you if you fall. They hold onto the back of your bike and let go just at the right time. They sneak lessons into everyday life and hold up the moon. And even if they do it all in camouflage crocs, they always stop for ice cream on the way home.