Real dad's dont play pretend?
Escape From Candy Land
You don't have to enjoy playing with your kids to be a great dad.
By Hugh O'Neill, Best Life
At a late-night dinner during a golf-and-laughs guys' weekend, one of the boys griped into his whiskey about how his wife was always pressuring him to play with their kids. There was a sudden, and oddly deep, moment of silence as he went on. "I love my kids, I really do," he said, haunted and single-malt high. "But sometimes, hanging out with them, I think I may lose my freakin' mind."
After a few furtive glances around the restaurant, as if to make sure the coast was clear, there poured forth from the other seven men a tsunami of solidarity such as I have never seen. It was as if his dad lament had broken some seal, freeing the rest of us, all fathers good and true, to say what had been previously unsayable, to give voice to the tedious truth about being with children.
Each guy had his own grim testimony of being pressed to play board games or hide-and-seek, to climb through monkey bars, or to portray a wicked stepsister in a backyard production of Cinderella. It was a confessional catalog of claustrophobia, of men shrunk down to child-size. One guy summed up the ambiguity thusly: "I'd race into a burning building to rescue my kids, but please, don't make me take them to the park! I'm begging you, anything but the park!
"It's time to blow the whistle on the Myth of the Smitten Dad. You see this myth propagated on talk shows, where celebrity fathers gush about the elations of fatherhood. They're just plain in love with their kids, goes the sermon. Fatherhood has made the scales fall from their eyes. Now they get it. Now they can see all that silly professional striving for the vanity it was. Oh, the pure joy of the kids' innocence and purity and…ai-yi-yi! It's not enough these days to be a responsible, dedicated father. You're supposed to be somehow re-enchanted by your love for your kids.
Now, if this spiel were just treacle, I'd say no harm, no foul. But it isn't just a sickening display; it's also a big, fat lie. For every father who is smitten with his kids, there are five of us who find the next generation, at least in the early years, boring.
I had a breakthrough liberation moment when I was in the park with my 6-year-old, playing some dumb wizard game with him. You see, I was supposed to love our Saturday time together. Anyway, I was hiding, scrunched up behind a bench, all 190 pounds of Dad. Now, I'm perfectly prepared to believe that I projected the following sentiments onto my boy, but here's what I remember when Josh captured me, shouting some magical elf words as he did. He looked a little rueful, as though disappointed in me. Don't you have better things to do, Dad? I imagined his expression said. Isn't there someplace else you should be? And then I heard a voice—okay, I had an auditory delusion, if you prefer—like the disembodied celestial whisper from Field of Dreams: "Don't be his playmate," it said. "Be his father."
If you can do both, that's great. But if you're like me and you start to feel like a Sartre character the instant you lie on your tummy in the living room and flick the Strawberry Shortcake game spinner, do not feel compelled to do it. You don't have to be Robin Williams. You can still be John Wayne. And know this: You are not alone! You are part of a great brotherhood. And most important, remember that you are of no use to anyone—your kids, your wife, your country—if you go slowly insane.
Keep these thoughts in mind:
Don't apologize. Women will act as though any man who doesn't cherish each moment with his kids is a reprobate and should be put instantly on a no-fly list. Don't buy into it. Don't let them get you on the defensive. Bridling at being with children doesn't make you a bad father. It merely makes you a man.
Puff up. In fact, go beyond a lack of shame to a pride in your inability to miniaturize yourself. Hey, it's not your fault that your blood is thick with testosterone and so not exactly congenial to Amelia Bedelia. A grizzly bear can't knit a sweater. A tiger can't play the flute. And some men are so robust and vigorous they can't—and shouldn't—get small with kids. But they can…
Invite them. Of course, you can't disappear. If you're as good a man as I think you are, your kids will benefit from time with you. They need your presence in their lives. And moreover, Mom needs help. They're not exactly a perfect match with her, either. But rather than cramming your swaggering self into your kids' little world, sweep them into your roomier one. Take fewer trips to the playground and more to the hardware store. Surely you could use an apprentice for that drywall job. Somebody has to hand you the nails. And don't take them to Chuck E. Cheese's, but on a hike to Havasu Falls. Include them in the things you enjoy. Let them be part of your man's world, rather than shrinking yourself to their size.
I was a child a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. And, to be sure, the gender landscape of family life was different then. But I still remember the impression my father made on me. He was warm and affectionate and plenty willing when time allowed to toss the football around. But my father didn't do games and he didn't do pretend, and he had no patience for the goofiness of kids, and he didn't apologize for wanting to be left alone from time to time. He was a man. He had a man's concerns, a man's plans, a man's demons. He took us camping and bought us dogs and filled our youth with his energy. But he had no interest in childish things. And yet nobody in our family ever doubted, not for a moment, his love for them. His passion for his kids was man-size.
In my memory, his self-possession was a come-hither to adulthood. He was fully engaged in his life, enthused about its pleasures and its challenges. It wasn't so much that he enjoyed being a dad as it was that he enjoyed being a man. My father was full of promise, and so he invited his kids to be intrigued by their futures.
Being a father has been the most enriching experience I've ever had. There is no second-place finisher. But it wasn't great because I enjoyed the gazillion laughs and million moments of care. Did the boys of Pointe du Hoc enjoy that morning on the beach in Normandy? Not likely. But the obligation fell to them and they were there. And it was a noble cause. Now, I understand that fatherhood isn't putting yourself in harm's way, but guess what, Dad? You're there and it's a noble cause. Any frat boy can succeed at doing something he digs. A call to duty is more enriching than mere delight.
So, if you want to play patty-cake with your kids, go right ahead. Whatever works for you is good by me. But just don't do it because they say you should. Your chances of enjoying fatherhood will double the instant you realize that you don't have to.
Sometimes the best thing a man can do for his children is to live his own life with honor and vigor and let them watch. Having a front-row seat to a loving man in full may be all a child needs.
Ladies(and the occassional dads), is it me, or does it seems more and more he's looking for an excuse?
Yeah, some days its hard to get down and try and play tea party. Or run around, and I understand introducing kids to adult type stuff, but really, his language tells a different tale? "Stupid" wizards game? I dont know....