Dear Old Dad

There are times when I wake up feeling like I’ve got this parenting thing all wrong. That I am not being hard enough or rigid enough or easy enough or relaxed enough.  Simply not enough. Someone has failed a test. Missed a curfew. Or hit a brother.  Wet towels litter the bathroom. Socks are strewn in every room. Meals cannot be eaten unless I make them. Homework requires a new level of nag.

All of the parenting I worked so hard to get right, it just doesn’t seem to be working.

On mornings like these, I am glad to be married to the father of my children. These aren’t the only mornings that I am glad to be married to him. There are others.

He looks at our children with my same mix of pride and frustration and fear and hope. All at once. He accepts my critiques and accolades about each of them. He listens to me marvel about their talents and complain about their weaknesses. And he does the same to me. Because they are ours. Both of ours. Both of us, rolled into three. Our three boys.

His own dad died when he was a child. He remembers him, though. The time they went on a weeklong trip to a beach in New Hampshire. And that he wanted to be a radio announcer. He remembers how his dad loved to sing. I am glad he has these memories. I wish he had more. Our sons will have many. They are lucky.

He has become the father he is mostly on his own. He is a good father. There have been stumbles. Mistakes. Things said that shouldn’t have been said. Things not said that maybe should have been. But there has also been really good stuff. Baseball coaching and fishing trips. Ski lessons and Easter egg hunts. Perfect moments.  There has been saying exactly the right thing. Or saying nothing at all. He’s better at that than I am.

There is also the occasional story. Told at dinnertime. They are rare, these dad stories. But they are always good.

And then there is this best story. It’s about baseball. Because, really, all of the best stories are about baseball. And about your own dad. Way back when he was a kid. In a moment of, well, not really weakness, but not really greatness, either.

He was in Little League. And wasn’t much of a hitter.  It wasn’t his sport.  Until one day. He connected the bat to the ball. And the ball flew. Way out of the infield. Over the heads of the outfielders. Not quite to the fence, but close. And he ran. And he kept running. And running. And slid into third base. A triple.

Overcome with emotion, he complained of a knee injury. And was carried from the field. Sobbing. With joy. With relief. With accomplishment. With everything but knee pain.

The boys laugh when he ends his tale. They snicker. Honestly, dad?, they say.

Yes, honestly. He is very honest.

This would be a good time to talk about their own baseball careers. You know, the “if you work hard, you’ll get a triple” lesson. Or a time to mention that there is nothing wrong with being emotional. It would be a good time for that, too. But there is none of this; the ending is simply an end.

My stories have crescendos. They have big coming together moments. A moral perhaps or a truth that was hidden until the final punch. My blog editor —and youngest son — will tell you what I taught him early on. Literary license is sometimes necessary for a story to be good.

But sometimes it is not. Sometimes the story is good all on its own.

And sitting around the dinner table — a rare occurrence these days, as our boys get big and busy and life gets full, too full — sitting around the dinner table and listening to that story, and hearing the boys laugh. And their dad chuckle. Feeling the complete honesty and vulnerability of the story teller. Eating watermelon with our fingers and hotdogs with too much ketchup. Well sometimes, you just get this parenting thing right. I like nights like those.

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