This post is in honor of my dad’s birthday, which is this Saturday. Also, welcome back from your long weekend and the end of summer. Time for fall and all things pumpkin. Which either makes you really happy or really sad. I’m really happy, don’t ruin it for me.
My father didn’t cry when I was born. And I was the one that took him from a guy to a dad, jeez. He doesn’t wrap you up in bear hugs and tell you how proud he is. He doesn’t show his love with words. He doesn’t ooze sap. He’s a no nonsense type of guy. When he was a teenager he was drunk and fell head first down a flight of stairs onto a concrete floor. He could’ve died. He should’ve been hurt. Instead he stood up and shook it off. Asked for another beer. Hell shoulda coulda whatever, he lived so let’s move on (30 years later after nearly choking to death (not an exaggeration) on prime rib at brunch I would finally get it out of my throat and immediately turn to my waffle and start devouring it. I lived. Let’s move on).
He shows his love via his actions. He shows his love the way real tough men do (not macho, real life tough). When you need a favor, you get a favor. When you need help, you turn around, he’s there. He doesn’t let you cry and whine too much. He tells you to solve your problem. He tells you you know what to do. You know he loves you. Because actions speak louder than words. Because when I was 6 my parents thought I may die from a supposed heart condition and when I became an adult my mom told me that my dad told her that if I died, he’d kill himself because he couldn’t put me in the ground alone and that she ought to prepare herself. He never told me that. We don’t have mushy moments. And that’s mostly okay.
Fathers are there to make you tough in a world that’s frequently harsh. They tach you how to stand. And how to rise. And how to be strong. How to fight. How to get good enough to earn a win instead of being handed a victory. When you’re young it just seems like they’re teaching you sports or telling you stories. But they’re showing you how to live. They’re giving you the blueprint for growing up. You don’t realize it until you’re an adult. But everything fathers do is for you. It’s for you to live better and be better than them. They’re silently rooting for you to not be the best version of them but to be so much more. They’re your biggest fans. They want you to win EVERYTHING.
Fathers teach you enough lessons so that when they’re gone, their absence isn’t such a void. They leave you grieving sure but mostly whole. Because good lessons never leave, even though people must. If you have a father, find a way to thank him today, right now. If you don’t have a father, find a solid mentor, a man willing to be a surrogate father. If your father is gone, I am so sorry, but take comfort in what you learned, some people never get that opportunity.
Fathers are amazing. But sometimes you don’t even know it. Cause they sure won’t talk about it too much. So, thanks dad. I hope you read this. But I sure won’t send it to you. We don’t do sappy. 🙂
Stooped men with long white beards
and medals two generations old
shuffled through a gauntlet
of flags and gentle applause
on a crisp Saturday in 1930
when the boy my father used to be,
not yet big enough for long pants,
stood on a Cleveland sidewalk.
Before his eyes –
(after the middle-aged veterans
of Hearst’s war strode by,
after the proud collective strut
of the over-there boys,
still in their prime,
minus the occasional limb or eye)
– the Johnnys who marched home
marched by again.
It was rote by then, so many years later.
Each slower on octogenarian legs,
each soldier-boy proud
in his blue, baggy relic of belly-fire days,
musty epaulets arranged just so.
“I remember that parade distinctly,”
my father says.
When I was little, he had a joke.
He’d extend his palm and say
“This is the hand
that shook the hand
that shook the hand
that shook the hand
that shook the hand
that shook the hand
of George Washington.”
Today, in long pants,
it is he who is stooped and bearded white,
though his nearsighted eyes saw no battles.
One day, after he is gone, I will tell my children
that I am the man
whose father was the man
who saw the men
who fought Lincoln’s war.
Ted Anthony, a Pittsburgher living in Thailand, is a Baby Boomer by generation and a Gen-Xer by age. He has been dissecting and musing about American culture since Guns N’ Roses was on the charts and “Rain Man” was in the theaters. He is the author of Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song. He tweets here, Instagrams here and collects various fragmentary images and thoughts on Tumblr here.
©2017, Ted Anthony
A Father’s Mission has been out for a few months and it’s selling well. A few weeks ago it was rolled out to other platforms and services worldwide.
There are two reasons behind this — firstly I want A Father’s Mission to be available to as many Dads as possible. That means making it available in as many countries and formats as possible.
The second is that it’s just bad planning to have all your eggs in the Amazon basket.
(For more details on where you can get the book, click here)
One of the places you can buy my book is Playster — a subscription service that gives you access to thousands of ebooks, games and music tracks.
And when you sign up for a 30 day trial, you can read A Father’s Mission for free. This isn’t an affiliate hard sell (I make a better commission from Amazon anyway), just a great way to read my book if you don’t have $7.99 to your name.
Sign up for your trial here
P.S. Amazon is still the only place you can get a paperback edition (very popular).
Originally published at thisdaddoes.com.
An interview with Paul Frampton, CEO UK & Ireland at Havas Media Group, one of the world’s most progressive media groups. It was originally published on Being Dads, dedicated to exploring what it means to be a dad.
Paul has four kids. Three with his first wife — a 15 year old girl, 13 year old twins, a boy and girl. And a baby yet to be 1 with his current wife. He’s also to be found on Twitter quite a lot, follow him and you’re learn things.
For most things I do, I think about balance. Balance is a hugely underrated attribute in this world. Take politics, one person says one thing and the other takes the polar opposite view. In life it’s rarely ‘either-or’, it’s always ‘and’.
With parenting there are these generational models we get ourselves stuck in. When I first became a dad 15 years ago, it was all about Gina Ford and sleep training. Then you find out she didn’t even have kids! This was a command and control parenting model, much like the old command and control approach to leadership too. This is ‘either-or’.
These days a much more balanced view is the order of the day. If your child sleeps in your bed for the first six months it doesn’t matter, what matters is your whole approach. In the past you were pushed to be a certain sort of parent, a dad had to behave in a certain type of way, so did a mum. I think with a more diverse society comes a more diverse way of looking at parenting.
I think you become a better leader by being a better father and you become a better father by being a good leader. It’s about being aware of the people around you. The ‘either-or’, old school leader compartmentalises work and home. They are task, not people focused.
Modern leaders need skills like emotional intelligence, coaching, and a question orientated rather than dictatorial approach. This is also how I think you raise kids well. That doesn’t mean I go home and behave like a CEO, I’d get told off! I mean you’ve got to have the right conversations, even if they are uncomfortable. As a CEO that’s the nature of the beast, you have tough conversations many times a day and learn that it’s rarely a good idea to delay that conversation. Raising kids means working well with your partner. This means you need a strong foundation of shared understanding. Understanding each other means you don’t feel as much of a conflict between self, work and family.
Take how you manage your time between family and work. I feel comfortable that I’m present enough with my senior clients and my team. I attend enough industry events and my profile in the industry is good enough, so I don’t need to do things for the sake of it. When it comes to networking or being out in the evenings, I focus on where the business value is, rather than going out for the sake of it or to enjoy myself. If things get too out of balance my wife tells me. I don’t feel attacked because I know where she’s coming from and she knows I’m trying to get the balance right.
We can only do this because we’ve spent time talking about what’s important to each of us. It’s something I didn’t do when I was younger, so in my first marriage, when we had kids, it became hard. My wife’s world was focused on them, but my world was expanding with work, international travel and everything. I was being challenged for not being a more present dad. It was a time of conflict as opposed to working to find the right balance.
One of the things I’m very good at doing is ruthlessly prioritising. I change things many times a day sometimes on late notice (ask my wonderfully patient EA Amy!). You have to, if you want work and family to work together. I try to be at home for breakfast or bedtime a few times a week, so I’m not just seeing my baby at the weekends. This is a change from my older kids, back then I used to work every hour god sends in the week to make sure the weekends were free to be with them. Now I want more balance.
I know that if I get up early enough, I do a Twitter blast then I can spend time with my baby before going to work.
The other big thing I do is be very deliberate and planned with my time. When I got divorced I knew I just wasn’t going to be there for my older kids as much as I wanted to be. I knew I had to make sure I was there for the important things in their lives and had made the space to build relationships with them. I contracted with myself and with my new wife that I would prioritise being there for important moments in their lives over anything else. I’ve managed that 90% of the time I think. It’s hard to do but so very important.
Sometimes though, when you’re just there a lot of the time, you don’t think about whether you are genuinely present in the moment. I get it wrong sometimes and have told my kids to call me out on it. They say ‘it’s our time’ and they’re right.
Being the CEO of an organisation of 850 people, I’ve thought a lot about how to create a culture that lets our talent be better parents. It’s a hard thing in agencies. I was brought up in a culture of presenteeism, jacket on the back of the chair type of thing. People used to ask why you weren’t coming in at the weekend.
I decided early on I wanted to get to a senior position so I could change that old school culture. It so desperately needs to change to get the right talent because more and more people want flexibility in their work. They want to make their own decisions about how to spend their time. Like a few more hours at home in the morning and work later, and not to feel judged for that. You need a bit of trust and empowerment with structure too. You can’t just all be about margin, you need to be about nurturing and protecting talent. If you look after your people, they’ll look after the margin. That’s the kind of culture we’re trying to creating here at Havas. You have a fifteen year old and a new baby, what’s it like going back to the early years again?
There’s an interesting dynamic there, when you’re older. Age changes the way you think about being a dad.
When my first daughter was born it was an incredible euphoric moment, this person relies on you, a wonderful moment. I remember trying to express this utterly new feeling in some way. Being an English Lit. graduate, I wrote a poem. It was back in my late 20’s. I wish I had it now, but the lasting memory is of this amazing feeling.
The gap between my eldest and youngest is 15 years, with 13 year old twins in there too. The older kids were with my ex-wife. They don’t live with me, but I see them every other weekend and if possible during the week. I miss them, but a new baby has brought back both the challenge and excitement of having kids in the house.
We joke as a family now about that time now, which is great. Particularly when I introduced them to my now wife. I set it up as she’s a friend staying at the house. My 13 year old son finds it particularly hilarious to refer to her as ‘the lady’. The fact that we can all joke about it together is such a good sign, because it shows my kids, my wife and I all have good relationships.
The moment of telling them though was really tough. The strongest memory I have is going home one night not long after I had separated my first wife. I was picking up some stuff, had a suitcase in my hand. My son, then about 6 or 7 saw me. He thought I was coming back. Then, in a moment he realised I wasn’t. It was horrific. The look on his face. I find it hard to talk about, even today.
The divorce itself was the right thing to do. Everyone tells you to make the call as early as possible and tell the kids. In the moment, you don’t understand just how resilient kids are. I took a long time to do it and was finding all sorts of reasons to be out the house. But making the call early is advice I’d give now. As long as the kids know you love them, you tell them and show it and are present as much as possible, they can get through it. You have to make the effort to check in every day. I interact with my eldest kids several times a day via Snapchat which has also helped me master the platform and stay young !
You beat yourself up as a dad who decided to leave. How will that change them and how will that influence their relationships in the future? I thought my eldest would be most affected, for a year, she was angry with me but not old enough to be really angry. Now though I see her flourishing in life, absolutely flourishing and it feels good. It doesn’t remove the guilt though, but it’s amazing to see.
To have been there at the important moments. To have helped them recognise who they are. To have helped them think bigger about the world and to know they’re growing up in a big, wide world of possibilities. To have had the hard conversations with them to keep them on track. And of course for them to know that they are loved.
Being a good role model is important too. The norm is still that the man, generally, works more than the mum. This means that men often have to do things that go against the traditional idea of being a dad. You have to be there doing things equally (like housework and cooking) because you have to be the role model for how a dad should look like, not how it has been stereotyped. For how you want them to act as parents themselves in the future.
It’s the most wonderful gift life gives you. With men it can often take a little too long to recognise that. You’ve got all these other stimuli going on, but it’s being a dad that gives you true satisfaction and happiness. Work is necessary to protect and provide for your kids, but it will be the time you spent as a dad that you’ll always remember.
Originally published at www.beingdads.com.
When my wife and I became parents almost a decade ago, I understood what so many first-time parents know: Nothing is as memorable and life changing as the arrival of a new person in your family. The tears of labor and the joy of delivery give way to the surreal blur of a newborn’s 24-hour “schedule,” as parents and baby work together to figure it out.
What makes parenting so hard? According to a recent meta-analysis:
- many more opportunities for frustration, worry, and other difficult emotions
- a lack of sleep, especially with younger kids
- physical fatigue from a job that’s nonstop
- less quality time—and more arguing—with one’s partner
- financial strain from paying for kids’ clothes, food, activities, childcare, activities, etc.
Of course, these difficulties seem to come with the mandatory disclaimers that “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” “It’s totally worth it,” and so forth—suggesting some guilt about possibly preferring parts of our pre-parenthood lifestyle.
So when and why does being a parent decrease our happiness? Findings that emerge from research studies confirm my clinical observations and my own experience as a dad: Parenting decreases well-being to the extent that it interferes with our fundamental psychological needs. These needs, based on years of research by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, are for:
- Relatedness: having positive and meaningful connections with other people
- Competence: being able to exercise our abilities and feel like we’re good at what we do
- Autonomy: freely choosing our actions
We’re happier, healthier, and more productive when we’re able to satisfy these three needs. How does parenthood affect our ability to satisfy these basic needs?
The new relationship between child and parent can provide a deep connection that’s unlike any other, for the rest of a parent’s life. Having children can also lead to new friendships, as we develop relationships with the parents of our kids’ friends.
Balancing these positive effects of parenthood is the challenge of maintaining one’s prior relationships — first and foremost with one’s partner. Time and energy previously directed toward one another are now channeled into childcare, often with little left over for each other. Add poor sleep and financial strain to the mix and it’s a recipe for less closeness and more conflict.
It can also be a struggle to keep up with other friendships. Friends without kids may have a hard time understanding why you’ve disappeared, or may tire of hearing about our child’s latest milestone (“She clapped!”). Parents’ sleep schedules also tend to accommodate their young children’s early schedules, so when your childless friends are gearing up for dinner, you may be yawning and longing for bed.
We all like to feel like we’re good at what we do, and parenthood provides countless opportunities to practice the new skills needed to keep a little person alive. We might feel a sense of accomplishment after the first few days with our first child as we realize, “I can do this.”
At the same time, we might experience a drop in our sense of competence in other ways. We won’t be able to figure out why a child is crying inconsolably, or how he could possibly still be awake. We’ll realize in hindsight — or even in real time — that we’ve mishandled a conflict with our child. We’ll lose patience. We’ll doubt our instincts about our child’s health. We’ll think we really suck at parenting.
If these inherent challenges weren’t enough, we’ll receive direct or implied criticism about our parenting from our own parents, our friends, and the popular media. There’s no shortage of opinions on the best way to raise kids. It can be easy at times for parents to feel like maybe they aren’t cut out for this parenting business.
Of the three basic psychological needs, autonomy is arguably affected the most. Any relationship restricts our choices in some way — for example, having a partner typically means we can’t date other people, or always pick the shows we want to watch — and the loss of autonomy that comes with a child is profound.
Consider a simple trip to the convenience store to get some milk. Before kids, we could grab a jacket, jump in the car, listen to the radio on the way there, and be in and out in 5 minutes.
When a young child is involved there could be a struggle to find the child’s shoes and jacket, not to mention the emotional and physical strain of trying to get them on an uncooperative kid. Once you manage to get out the door — which can be its own private hell— there’s the car seat, another certain battle.
Finally you’re both in your seats, exhausted and unhappy. (By this time the pre-kid version of you is already back with the milk.) You turn on the radio and hear an intriguing snippet on the news, and then your child says she wants to listen to her music CD. You hear your mom’s voice saying “Pick your battles” and put her music on, reminding yourself to look up the news story later on, which you’ll forget to do.
At the store you breathe through the inevitable 60 seconds that feel like forever as you wait for your child to get out of the car, which she insists on doing herself. Once inside you grab the milk and hurry to the checkout because you have to get dinner started back at home, and you realize she’s way overdue for a snack which means you’re on borrowed toddler time, making a meltdown almost inevitable.
Getting back into the car is a repeat of earlier, and once you’re home and desperately needing to use the bathroom, your child is taking an unbelievably long time to get out of her carseat. Finally, on the verge of wetting your pants, you scoop her up and carry her inside, as she screams and flails in your arms.
Our actions are no longer autonomous when we have children, as every decision and every activity is affected by them. Simple daily activities like eating, sleeping, exercising, and showering are not entirely in our hands anymore, and having kids can affect big decisions like where we live and what we do for a career. Weekends and vacations that used to be for unwinding and recharging become family adventures that can make work seem like a nice break.
Effects for Mothers vs. Fathers
A highly-publicized research study from 2013 declared that “children are associated with more joy than misery.” Sounds great, right? But the fine print read, “parenthood was associated with increased satisfaction and happiness only among fathers” (emphasis added).
This pattern is a common one in research on parenting. Based on a recent review mothers tend to experience:
- more stress and lower satisfaction with their personal life and family life
- lower satisfaction with being a parent
- fewer positive effects of being a parent
- a greater increase in marital distress and decline in marital quality
- greater depression
- a greater decline in total sleep time (fathers’ did not change significantly)
- fewer positive emotions when interacting with kids, probably in part because dads are more often involved in play while moms tend to be in charge of the less fun activities like getting children dressed and fed
- greater disruption in “social rhythms” — things like wake and sleep times, meal times, etc.
- more time in child-related activities
- not enough time for themselves (nearly 4 out of 5 moms)
- much more financial strain as single parents (about 4 out of 5 mothers vs. 1 out of 5 fathers)
These findings are in line with a groundbreaking book called The Transition to Parenthood by Jay Belsky and John Kelly, which followed couples from pre-children to 3 years post-baby. They noted that there are in fact two transitions to parenthood for most couples: His and hers.
As Belsky and Kelly described, the majority of men fairly quickly reclaim much of their pre-child life: They return to work as before, their sleep improves, they make time for friends and hobbies, they exercise, and so forth.
In contrast, mothers’ lives generally change a lot more, with a fundamental realignment of their time and energy toward caring for the child. Accordingly, fathers are more likely to be getting their psychological needs met, whereas mothers more often sacrifice their needs for those of the child. (Obviously, there are exceptions to these general trends.)
It’s not hard to understand the greater toll parenthood can take on mothers’ needs. A mother who’s working a longer “second shift” (or third) at home will have less time to devote to other relationships.
Stay-at-home mothers might miss the sense of competence they got at work, and discount their current occupation as being “just a mom” (even while recognizing there’s no harder or more important job).
Mothers who work outside the home can feel like they’re letting people down on two fronts, as their bosses and their families both want more time. They’re also more likely to have to call out from work to care for a sick child, leading to greater role conflict.
Hope for Parents’—Especially Moms’—Well-Being?
When we understand what our needs are, we have a better chance of satisfying them. If your sense of relatedness, competence, or autonomy has suffered after having kids, consider trying one of these evidence-based strategies to better meet your needs:
- Play to your parenting strengths. In a recent study, parents identified their top strengths as parents, as well as less well-developed strengths they wanted to work on. They subsequently felt a greater sense of competence as parents.
- Play to your children’s strengths. In the same study, parents who practiced identifying and appreciating their child’s strengths also felt more competent as parents, and experienced more positive emotions.
- Reflect on what you did well. It’s easy to remember times we “failed” as parents, and probably harder to recall our successes. Consider writing down at the end of each day three things you did well as a parent, no matter how large or small. This type of exercise has been shown to be helpful for everyone, including parents.
- Practice mindfulness. Being in the moment with nonjudgmental openness is linked with greater need satisfaction, as well as greater awareness of our needs). No extended meditation sessions are required. By pausing even for a moment now and then and taking an internal inventory of our thoughts and emotions, we lower our stress and give ourselves a chance to identify what our needs are — and possibly ways to fulfill them. You might start with this One-Minute Breath Meditation. In fact, mindfulness practice can require literally zero extra time when we simply focus our attention on whatever we’re doing.
- Challenge your thinking. Our thoughts often lead us astray. For example, we might believe implicitly that “I must always put my child’s needs ahead of my own.” Living in line with this belief will interfere with meeting our own needs and can lead to resentment from sacrificing our own well-being—or guilt if we feel like we’re not doing it perfectly.
- Make a plan. If you recognize that you’re struggling to fulfill any of the three basic psychological needs, brainstorm ways you might fulfill one of your needs this week. If you’re in a relationship, consider involving your partner in the process. Make a specific plan for life-giving activities you want to add to your schedule, and put the plans in your calendar (and protect that time).
For parents who are intimately involved in their children’s lives, parenting will never be an easy or sacrifice-free endeavor — nor should it be. Continuing the chain of life is no small thing. When we’re willing to consider our own needs alongside those of our children, everyone benefits: our partners, ourselves, and even our kids.
Originally published at www.psychologytoday.com.
We talk about a bunch of parenting stuff before we get to entertainment, I swear.
Moltz love The Great Escape but there are a few goofs in the movie (he’s gonna have to go back and check the one he mentioned because it doesn’t seem to be listed on IMDB).
Lex can’d even start watching Back to the Future III without anticipating the creepy crotch kid.
Turns out Lex actually watches television shows. One that he’s enjoyed 15 minutes of is one Moltz suggested: Travelers.
Lex had a suggestion for Moltz: Santa Clarita Diet.
Moltz’s own suggestion is The Crown.
We all suggest A Series of Unfortunate Events.
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Our thanks to Blue Apron for sponsoring this episode. Blue Apron ships you ingredients and amazing recipes. Learn while you cook and cook meals you’ll love. Go to BlueApron.com/TURNING and get three meals FREE with free shipping.
Follow us: @ttcashow. Lex Friedman can be found @lexfri, John Moltz can be found @Moltz and Jon Armstrong is @blurb.
Hey Dad. I wanted to talk, but I guess you’re busy, so it’s fine.
It’s just… I’ve remembered being alone with you that time. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?
That night. When we all lived together for the last time.
Mum left in a hurry, after what you did. She shouted for me to come with her, but I stayed in my room. I think you thought I wanted to be with you instead of her.
I didn’t. I just couldn’t move. I was in my bedroom, running my fingernails along the curtain’s stitching, just waiting for the drama to be over.
I came downstairs a while later and we sat in the living room. It was really quiet.
Every so often you told me that everything would be alright and that you loved me. That nothing bad was ever going to happen, because you’d be there for me — properly from now on. That being a dad was difficult but you’d try harder. That kind of thing. I’m paraphrasing but it was that sort of message, over and over again.
Then you went to the kitchen and came back with a fizzy drink and crisps, just for me.
I was playing with the LEGO set. Not putting the pieces together, just lining them up in a row on the coffee table, too embarrassed to look at you — because it was weird, you being all nice. It just wasn’t you, dad. It didn’t feel natural.
I knew something was about to happen because you kept going to the window. I didn’t dare ask who was coming.
Then there was a knock at the door. Not like KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK-KNOCK, KNOCK KNOCK. More like KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK, with real purpose.
It was the police.
They came in and read you your rights, and held you in your place — even though you were cooperating. It was weird. We’d watched someone get arrested on EastEnders a few nights before. But you were my dad, not Phil Mitchell.
You looked at me one more time and said something nice again. I wish I could remember exactly what you said… because it was one of those moments, you know? Proper moments that make our life. Tools that chisel us into the sculptures we are.
I wish I could remember it rather than what I do remember, which is how scared you looked. For the first time. Suddenly I wasn’t scared of you anymore. I realised there were people stronger than you, who made you scared. I remember the fear lifting from me. It sounds strange, but I wanted to hold onto it. I wanted to be scared of you. It was part of what held our family together, and it was comforting in a way. I didn’t know what to feel instead.
There were two police officers — one man, one woman — and the woman stayed in the house with me while the man put you in the car. She put her big foot next to mine and said “snap”, pointing down at our feet. We were both wearing black Dr. Martens boots. There was too much going on to think it was cool or funny or empowering. I don’t know what it was, really.
I can’t remember anything else about that night. It ended when the front door shut and you went away.
Anyway, I’d better go. I’m not at home I’m at a bar, and people are listening.
What I’m trying to say is, none of this actually means anything. However awful that moment was, I’m pleased I remember it because it makes me really happy. And proud. And thankful, for the relationship we now have.
I love you, dad.
End of message. To replay the message, press 1. To save, press 2. To delete, press 3.
I stand about a foot from the door, as I do every day. It is almost time. I hear his footsteps on the front porch, a slight shuffle-step as he shifts his weight and puts down his bag to fish keys out of his pocket. I can open the door, but that would spoil the surprise. I finally hear the long awaited rattle-click of keys in the lock, and begin to grin as I hear it turn, and see the door open and feel a warm waft of summer air drifting in to mingle with the cool air conditioned space I stand in.
Beneath the crisp, stiff collar of his shirt, and padded suit shoulders, I can see his weary frame begin to droop, weighted down by another day. He looks up and I grin wildly, standing very still and quiet. This is our ritual. I am there every day, yet he never expects it. He breaks into a slow, tired smile. His eyes, slightly reddened by late nights, early mornings and bright screens at the office, light up and crinkle near the edges ever so slightly. He looks so handsome when he smiles like that; a near-laugh. He has bright, white teeth and his shoulders shake as he begins to laugh.
“Hello”, I finally say, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek and wrap my arms around him. He is warm like sunshine and still smells like the cologne that wafted around the kitchen at breakfast, lingering long after he had gone that morning. I stoop a little when I hug him, so I can rest my head against his shoulder and bury it into the crook of his neck like I did when I was little. “How was your day?” I ask, my voice muffled by his shirt. He shifts to keep his balance; one hand still holding his bags, the other around me. We stand like that for a few seconds, as we do every time I hug him. I notice his tie has been loosened, and see a tan line just above his collar, like an imprint left by the 9–5 noose of a long, hot week. “Good”, he says, patting me with the free arm. That’s what he usually says, and I still ask how his day was the next day.
Some days, when I ask how his day was- he pauses and says “tough”. He doesn’t need to say anymore. I take his bags from him and walk him to the cool, dark bedroom that he retreats to for a nap.
We do this day after day, and not every day is a good day, but I am always there at the door anyway. Sometimes he is angry with me; upset about something I was supposed to do and didn’t, or annoyed that I didn’t listen to his advice or instruction. I still hug him and ask him how his day was, because that is what we do. On those days, he says nothing, but I still feel an arm around me, and I know that it is to let me know: “I am here. I am tired, and a little angry but it is because I love you.” His silence makes me want to earn his pride, and maintain our persistent meetings at the front door, in calmer times and stormier times.
He eats a late lunch, and I sit with him at the kitchen table to hear his stories as I’m microwaving my dinner. We live on slightly different oscillating wavelengths, but they always align at this point in the day. Silence is his modus operandi, so when he does speak, people listen. I always listen. I listen to the advice, funny stories about work, the snippets of his past or childhood that he tells with a certain light in his eyes. His voice is calm and with an air of delight and humble appreciation of the moment as he jovially recalls a story about buying fish from the market. His grin begins to grow as he remembers how the fish flopped out of his bicycle basket, and he, a young teenager, jumped and bicycled away, terrified of the creature that unexpectedly burst out of its bag and onto the road.
It’s these stories that I crave more than anything: waiting for long drives when it’s just me, him and the great expanse of the highway ahead — storytime. With a gentle, bassy voice he draws me in until I’m grinning at him in anticipation, eyes wide in wonder, eyebrows raised, waiting for the climax of the story. This is the only time he’s animated, being usually so composed and serious that I often urge him to react with more enthusiasm. As he tells stories, I see him relive those moments: I hear the passion as his tone changes; sometimes in excitement; in deep longing and sympathy; or in sheer amusement.
I watch him as he lets out that much anticipated infectious laugh that starts in his belly, deep and ringing through his chest that it makes his shoulders jump when he remembers the funny parts. He can laugh at himself and is amused by his stories as much as I am delighted by them. It’s that casual ability to settle into his humanness that fills me with awe for him. For the man who is able to admit he’s made a mistake, and own up to it in front of his children, without his ego getting in the way. To see the humour in such moments, and be secure enough to narrate an embarrassing story, amused at his own moment of imperfection, is the most endearing.
His stories are rare, but mine are not. Almost the moment he walks across the threshold of the front door, he ceases to belong to the rest of the world and belongs to me. I don’t remember a time I didn’t have something to tell him, or ask him. In the minutes it takes to walk from the door to his bedroom, a stream of words pour out of me — they’ve been dancing on the precipice of my mind, the edge of my tongue, waiting for a delicious few moments of his attention. He stops at the door of his bedroom while I stand there, telling as much of the story as I can fit into the long pause before he politely asks me to leave him alone to take a nap. There is a hint of mischievousness in his eyes as he knows I will try to prolong this moment, pleading for him to let me finish the story. He patiently waits for it to near the end, but I deftly switch subjects and begin another, and he catches on to my game- chuckling at me as he gently closes the door, watching me through the narrowing gap as I flail to convince him to keep it open.
These days, there is no 9-to-5. He has retired, and I am away at University. There is nobody to wait by the door for him every day, and nobody for me to badger when they’re trying to take a nap. Yet, I wait. I wait and I store memories. Stories. I think about him on the bus to work, while grocery shopping, when I’m up late finishing a paper and remember how he, too, would work late nights. I wait and I narrate stories to him in my mind, picturing his reactions (or lack thereof). I picture him telling me Dad jokes out of the blue, breaking the monotony of a stoic disposition to crack a smile.
Finally, I am home for the holidays. I am home because home is wherever he is. Mentally, I rifle through stories on the seven-hour flight home. As I walk out of the airport, I see him hiding behind a pillar. I pretend to look for him, before he steps out, grinning wildly, holding out his arms. Home. I sink into the comfort of his hug and bury my head into the crook of his neck. The familiar smell of his perfume warms something inside me. “Guess what happened last week?” I start, handing him my bag and getting into the car. He smiles. It’s going to be a long, story-filled drive.
Written in 2006, while my infant daughter slept.
I know the truth.
I know that when I’m not looking she dances, she frolics, she leaps, she jumps. She pirouettes and does perfect toe points. She straps on roller-skates and glides around the house. She’s not fooling me at all.
I know the truth.
I ask her questions, and she looks at me with her big brown eyes and smiles, feigning she doesn’t understand. She’s toying with me. Eventually she’ll stumble. She’ll remark on the weather, or tell me she doesn’t like the outfit I picked out for her. It’s only a matter of time before I catch her.
I know that she wakes up in the middle of the night to dance in the moonlight and sing beautiful arias. I’ve heard her beautiful song in my sleep. I’ve seen her tiny legs practicing complicated steps. Once, I stayed up extra late to catch her, but she must have known I was watching and pretended to peacefully sleep in her bassinet.
I know the truth.
I know that she speaks five languages and is a covert operative for the CIA. She’s taken down foreign governments. She’s assassinated assassins. She’s foiled jewel heists, stopped industrial espionage, and defeated evil countless times. Being my daughter is just a cover story; her alias. I’ve been looking for evidence, and I’ll find it eventually.
I know that this helplessness is just an act. The smiles, the laughs, the big eyes…none of this can be real. She’s not fooling me at all. I won’t be swayed by her simplistic beauty, her small hand in mine, her warmth as she lay on my chest.
I know the truth.
Me and my daughter, Mazzy — September 2016