Good Cop, Bad Cop
After sitting in the smothering heat watching the boys play baseball the other night, all I wanted to do was get the kids home and in bed so I, too, could catch some zzz’s. Summer is wearing me out!
It sounds easy enough: Open the car door. Get into your designated seat. Buckle up. Off we go. That’s how it should happen, but in my family, the door opening is followed by a battle over who gets in first and who sits where. This time my daughter added a new, boundary-pushing experiment to the process. She buckled herself in without her booster seat. She may think she’s a big girl, but she’s not legal to travel without a booster seat. After asking her nicely to get into her seat and being ignored, I told her that if the police saw that she was not in a booster seat, Mommy would go to jail and she’d never see me again (a slight exaggeration—don’t judge, desperate times call for desperate measures.) Her response, “That’s okay, I’ll still have Daddy.”
Ouch. That hurt, but it didn’t surprise me. I spent the entire day entertaining my three kids and two of their friends: carting them to the pool, reading to them, coloring, making snacks and lunches and snacks and more snacks, refereeing squabbles, setting up the sprinkler and water slide, tearing it all down; but forget about Mommy, she can rot in jail; Daddy is the BEST! (I don’t know about you, but I’m hearing music, like angels singing at the mention of his name.)
In our house it is true. Daddy is the best. I often say that I have four children, the biggest of them being my husband. I am the primary caregiver in our family: I taxi the kids to practices, school, playdates. I am the keeper of the schedules. I handle all doctor and dentist appointments, medical concerns and questions. I monitor homework, chores, and sleep. I tuck the kids in with a book (Daddy sometimes swaps the reading for a pre-bed show or playtime). I plan meals (which include at least some of the food groups) and limit sugar intake. I do the laundry and make the kids get haircuts. I am the parent, the enforcer, the shall we say, bad cop.
My husband is the laugh riot, wrestler, treat giver, field trip “chaperone,” tee-ball coach, shark in the pool, golf cart tour guide, best friend of the ice cream man, storyteller extraordinaire, giver of treats (worth repeating), outdoor movie theatre maker. He fills them with joy and love (and sugar). He is a burst of excitement and spontaneity. He is the provider of all that we have, including the priceless opportunity for me to stay home and care for the kids. He is the smile maker. Daddy is the fun one, also known as the good cop.
If I’m being completely honest, being the bad cop all the time is a drag. I’d love to be the fun, carefree, rule-breaking adult in the family, once in a while. It’s frustrating to be the “meanie” and the parent that the kids love to shoo out because they know they can eat all the junk they want, stay up late watching TV, and then in the morning I get to deal with the cranky aftermath. I’d like a little more equality when it comes to laying down the law and caring about rules, structure, and consistency. That’s true when it comes to responsibilities regarding the children, too. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my husband changed maybe 50 diapers total—for all three kids, over more than 6 years.
That being said, although we play different roles, his is equally important. His goal is to make them happy. And, being a big kid himself, he’s got fun all figured out. His playfulness and eagerness to please them is teaching them to live in the moment and have a ball; that life doesn’t have to be all rules and the social norm. While I give them structure, he gives them belly laughs and wild abandon. Of course, he can growl at them too. And, the kids know they are in T-R-O-U-B-L-E when that happens, but most of the time, he’s the party, and I’m Debbie Downer.
It just so happens that a playful dad fits in the puzzle that is our family, but there are all kinds of fathers out there. My Dad wrestled us and played catch, yet he was much more stern and authoritative. He pushed me into playing sports when I tried to resist it; I ultimately loved the competition and was a pretty decent athlete. He had high expectations and set the example for the hard work ethic that helped me succeed in school and at work. He fueled that desire to succeed because I never wanted to disappoint him. He kept his commitments and cared for us beyond measure even though he didn’t have to. He is my Dad but not my birth-father. Writing that feels like a betrayal to me, because he is the father, dad, man who has been there for me.
My father-in-law was the most graceful, kind-hearted gentleman I have ever met. He always put his wife first, and loved his children and grandchildren beyond measure. He worked tirelessly to give his family the best. He wasn’t flashy or loud. He was genuine and kind. When he spoke, you wanted to listen because you knew what he was saying was worthwhile and came from a place of pure goodness.
It’s far too easy to get caught up in the the chaos of kids, jobs, and the many roles that we play as mothers, and focus on what dad is not doing. Sadly, we may miss the laughter, structure, commitment, grace, love, example or other extraordinary contributions the dads in our lives share day in and out. Taking a moment to be in the moment is enlightening. Stop. Listen, look, and feel what the fathers in your world are adding to the everyday and the long-term. Or consider what memories and life lessons your father or grandfathers imparted. It’s pretty sweet, crazy, and important.
Tonight, I sat quietly on the edge of my youngest son’s bed, eager to kiss him good night and finally have some time to myself. Instead of a quick book and and a mad dash out of the room, I was given a pause to revel in my husband’s gift at being Daddy. Although he had a grueling week at work, had spent the previous two hours standing in the sun coaching tee-ball, and was starving for dinner, he snuggled close to our son. He unleashed the tickle monster and then started a storytelling game that had them both adding details to a silly tale until we all cracked up at the ridiculous, and boys being boys, gross ending. His patience, humor, and attention certainly sent our son to a much sweeter dreamland than my quick cuddle and warp-speed book-reading would have.
So, if I do get sent away for life for a non-booster-seated child, my daughter is right. My kids may never eat another vegetable, baths may be replaced by dips in the pool, and the Grateful Dead may be the only art they are ever exposed to, but they will be happy and loved.
Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there, and thank you for being the Dad you are.