“What’s it like to have a good dad?”
“I don’t know, sweetie.”
“How is it being the mom and the dad?” It sucks.
I can’t throw a football with a decent spiral. I don’t know the first thing about bow hunting. I just don’t understand why burping and farting is always funny. I could learn these things. I could practice and be a mom that throws an amazing spiral, but my plate is full. I want to be a wonderful mom, but dammit, I don’t want to be a wonderful dad. And I can’t be. It’s not the same. I don’t know if a boy even wants to brag about his mom being able to drive a golf ball 275 yards. Not that I can.
The morning after the fabulous ski day with their dad, the kids were working on a fun collaboration where they were filming each other as they told about their dreams. As luck (?) would have it, the night of the skiing incident, Jenny dreamt that John was her dad. He taught her magic tricks and told her exciting stories, and listened as she talked about whatever popped into her head. So Will was filming her as she gave the details of a bizarre adventure that included the three of us and John in some old, resort-like house with lots of hiding places. The house was inhabited by these little gnome people that were made out of clay and they spent their days making wooden furniture. She included enough details to make me think that I ought to phone Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.
In the middle of having her dream talk filmed, she burst into tears. I figured maybe Will had done something to piss her off. (They spend a great deal of time together.) She came to sit on my lap and told me, through big streaming tears, “I just want a good dad.”
So the three of us sat and talked about what a good dad is, and here is their list.
A good dad:
- makes me a priority
- tells me good stories
- picks me up when I fall on skis
- tells me when I’m doing good on what I like, not just what he likes
- tells me my Spread Eagles (ski jumps) are good
- listens to all the words of my dreams
- tells me I am the most beautiful girl in the world
- pushes me all over the house on my pillow car
- doesn’t fall asleep while we are reading or watching a movie
During a pause in the listing, when I thought they were out of suggestions, I said, “How about we think of some more tomorrow?” Will said, “No, I already have more.”
- doesn’t make fun of me for liking stuff he doesn’t like
- doesn’t make us give him back rubs
As I write this, I realize that I’m doing all those things. But that still doesn’t make me a good dad. It’s just not the same.
Jenny was still sitting on my lap, crying, during all this. I was sitting in front of my laptop. My screensaver is set to show a slideshow of all our family pictures. At this point I was desperate to interject some humor, get off the topic of what a good dad is, and try to help Jenny feel better. I diverted their attentions to the photos that were popping up on the screen. I should tell you that my kids often thank me for divorcing their dad. What I’m writing next might seem appalling at worst, or bad form at least, but this is another survival tool for us.
A picture on the screen shows us standing beside the Smith River. I’m holding a bundled up three month old Jenny who looks like she’s just seen a ghost. Will had just turned four, and his arms were tightly wrapped around my leg. He looked as though he might attempt to crawl up my leg to get to a safer position. I don’t know how this stuff pops into my head. Perhaps it’s better not to know, but I said, “Look there. Even back then you guys were desperate to get out of dad’s house. Jenny, you had a look on your face that said, ‘Geez, how did you decide to marry that guy?’ And Will, you look like, ‘Mom! Once I get up in your arms, RUN, quick!'”
Another picture shows the two of them dancing in the living room of our new home. Jenny is dressed like a little fairy princess, Will like a gunslinger. They are posed in the classic stance with his left hand barely touching her waist, her right hand on his shoulder, and their other arms outstretched with hands clasped. They have huge grins on their faces as they try to stifle laughs. Two happy little kids trying hard to be like grown ups only they’re not quite sure they’re doing it right. I said, “There. Look at that one. You guys were so happy that we moved out of dad’s house, that you spent the first three months dancing in the living room.”
And as the slideshow continued, they offered their own funny take on what must have been going through our minds while the pictures were being taken. We ended up laughing, and that was the goal.
And speaking of good dads, my uncle called this morning. He’s the lucky fellow married to my biscotti-baking aunt. He called to invite Will to go golfing. He’s not just a great dad because he invited my son for a guys’ day on the golf course. He always has been the dad who speaks glowingly of his kids. I remember rolling my eyes when he would talk of how beautiful, talented, competent and funny his daughters were. Then, when they got married, he added their husbands to the conversation. He said the same kinds of things about their husbands, too, and then their kids, and I thought, “Come on. They can’t be that fabulous.”
My cousins and their families are a swell bunch of folks. I just didn’t know dads said those kinds of things.