A Father’s Day Homage to My Children

I love getting the presents. I love the corny cards chosen by my wife and only briefly customized by my children. It’s nice to not have to wash dishes after dinner. I love being a father on Father’s Day.¬† More importantly, though, I love being a father.

With a kid in Princeton and another in Stanford, it’s likely that I’ve done something right. My wife surely had more to do with it than me, but I can easily boast that, as dad’s go, I probably didn’t suck. I would imagine that my children would probably say that I gave them an appreciation for humor and laughter or that I taught them to love science.

When compared on the cosmic/karmic balance sheet, however, I readily admit to being a debtor; I have taken much more than I have given. What meager things I have given my children pale in value when compared to what I have received.

Their first gift to me, back before they were even born, was to cure me of self-indulgence. Sally and I had been married for 8 years when we realized that taking one more trip or buying one more toy was not going to make us any happier. We realized that the world was not just about bringing pleasure to ourselves. We decided to grow our family and our daughter was born a year later.

In the delivery room, I received two gifts. Not just a beautiful, healthy, girl, but something else, too; I learned to accept, tolerate, and even enjoy the messiness of life. For nine months, I’d been worried about dealing with the birth process. I hadn’t enjoyed the films and had always felt panicky when visiting hospitals.¬† Yet, there I was, in a room filled with bloody towels. I’d just cut my baby’s umbilical cord and was (at the OB’s suggestion) poking at the afterbirth to “note the incipient calcification” of which we’d been concerned. I was was thrilled to tears. Never again have I been bothered by bodily fluids. Pee, poop, vomit – no problem. Decomposing rat in the crawl space – er, okay, maybe not my favorite, but I can deal with it.

Kids are messy. Life is messy. Sometimes a mess involve fluids, other times it involves unpleasant arguments or difficult decisions. No matter, I can deal – my kids taught me how.

As my kids grew into toddler-hood they taught me patience. Teething, tantrums, and toilet incidents do not yield to reason, yelling or tears. You survive these only by learning to outlast them. The phrase, “it is what it is” finally makes sense. Years later, when I get stuck in long lines or have a flight cancelled or find myself talking to “Doug” in customer service, I can enter a Zen-state where nothing bothers me. So be it. This, too, will pass.

When I left Microsoft in 1998, my children were 5 and 7 years old – a wonderful age (no diapers!). I spent the next 6 years co-mothering my kids. I did a little work here and there but, mostly, Sally and I made lunches, drove the kids to school, drove back to school to bring forgotten items, picked them up, took them to soccer/piano/Gymboree, made dinner, read stories and put them to bed. On weekends, I taught them to ride bikes or drove them to the kids’ museum or science center.

I talk to a lot of parents who fret about the advantages and disadvantages of having a stay-at-home parent (usually, around here, a stay-at-home Mom). I reply that I’m all for it, but I think both parents should stay home. I loved the time that I got to spend with my kids.

Those years taught me how little everything else matters – I gained perspective. I track global, national and local politics. I give to charity and participate in a non-profit. I not only recycle, I compost, too. Frankly, however, none of that stuff matters in comparison to my family life. I would readily elect a Republican, steal from the poor and kill the whales if that’s what I had to do to protect my family. I participate in world events as a hobby. Being a good father and husband, however, is my duty.

My kids’ teenage years were easy. To friends, I explained my parenting philosophy regarding dealing with perils of the age. I would set unreasonably high standards so as to give the kids lofty goals (e.g. “don’t drink alcohol”). They would fail to meet these standards (as one would expect). I would then not overreact since this is what I anticipated anyway. To my kids, I asked that they use good judgement. Don’t do bad things but, if you do them, please love me enough and be smart enough that I don’t learn about them. It worked with me and my parents, could they please do the same?

We had no DUI’s, drug problems or surprise pregnancies. Both kids survived the hell of puberty/middle school and were well-grounded upon reaching high school.

The high-school years taught me grace and how to deal with pride. I remember my own father bragging incessantly about his children and vowed not to be such a blow-hard. It was difficult. We had friends whose kids were a constant source of headaches. No pregnancies, but plenty of drugs and academic issues. We had none of these problems; I was worried more that my kids were too cautious and not getting into enough trouble (although, I thought, maybe they just love me enough to not let me find out!). My kids got into great schools; it was hard to not brag. It is easy to bask in our children’s’ limelight. If they’re good, we must be good, too, no?

I remembered my own father and learned to be quiet and humble (most importantly, quiet.) Nothing ruins the buzz of Schadenfreude¬† like someone who’s not miserable.

Selflessness, resilience, patience, perspective and humility – these are but the major lessons. Every year of being a father has taught me something new. I am much better a person for having become one. So, on my 22nd Father’s Day, let me be the one that does the thanking: Danielle, Steven – I love you dearly. Now, please, is it so hard to call once a week?