It’s a three-father Thursday in the #40Days40Dads project, as I make up for skipped days! Today’s third featured father is my coworker Terry’s husband Ted. I briefly met Ted once at a work function and he seemed like a great guy, but the depth and eloquence of his responses below really blew me away. Thanks so much, Ted!
Ted is the father of 21-year-0ld and 17-year-old sons.
What was the moment when you first felt like a father?
In the immediate aftermath of a tumultuous birth in which the lives of both my wife and my newborn son were near death, I felt a tug I’d never felt before. I watched over my sleeping, convalescing wife in profound serenity, feeling more protective than ever before as I breathed every labored breath with her. The tranquility was broken by the realization that I had to tend to another life. With his mother unavailable, I was the one – he was my responsibility. For the first time, I felt the atavistic pull to protect two lives outside my own; I literally had to be two places at once. As I rushed down the hall to be with my son I had the profound realization that this must be what God feels like all the time. And He gave me a knowing wink.
What’s your favorite part about being a father?
I absolutely love just hanging out with my three favorite people in the world. When my family unit is together, the party is complete. My boys – now young men – are fun, funny, charming and kind. When we’re together all of this comes out in ways that never cease to surprise me and always fill me with pride. We tease each other — I now get more than I give — we make fun of the world, we talk about things that interest us from pop culture to politics to religion, and we laugh a lot.
What’s the hardest part about being a father?
As the adage says, “small children, small problems; big children, big problems”. When my boys were young, I was exhausted by the myriad of incessant small problems and I mourned my loss of freedom – my loss of self. It wasn’t until I was well into the journey that I appreciated this thread as one of the subjects on the father-child syllabus. As a father, it’s my job to teach, and they were giving me opportunities every day…several times a day…
When my boys got older, the problems got more complex and the implications got bigger – impossibly big sometimes. In trouble at school, I was faced with a principal who didn’t believe my son’s implausible version of events with wide-reaching consequences for an entire community. In a moment of rare paternal clarity, I chose to believe my son not because of the veracity of his story, but because he simply needed to be believed. I chose my son over the community, which led to a series of events that was challenging for us all. And it was the right choice. The hardest part, though, wasn’t the choice. It was allowing him to experience the consequences, and impotently watching him experience the pain that came with them. Parenting an adolescent, this has been a consistent theme.
What’s the dumbest/funniest thing that your kid has cried about or fought with you over?
Circumstances had my 3-year-old son and I sharing a small space in a public shower. As I helped him through the machinations of drying, dressing, combing, etc., I noticed a pronounced despondence. He kept muttering “It’s not fair.” “What’s not fair?” “Your penis is bigger than mine.” I paged Dr. Freud.
What are you most proud of having taught/shared with your kids or what are you most looking forward to teaching/sharing with them?
I was raised under the mantra “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” As an adult, I am under no illusion that this is a flawless compass, but I’m proud to have taught my sons about the kindness and social teaching about dignity that underlie this sentiment. And I’m grateful that they have also learned its limitations – the obligation to speak truth to power and the need to value yourself enough to stand up for yourself. I can’t take credit for the last two, but I’m proud nonetheless.
What’s your favorite thing about your kids?
I feel nearer the payoff of parenting than ever before. As Lennon’s lyric says: “I can hardly wait to see you come of age…but it’s a long way to go, a hard row to hoe.” My boys are becoming fine men. One is intellectually and morally curious in ways that inspire me to examine my own thinking. The other is genuinely kind and principled in a way that makes me a better father and man. These virtues are tied with the fact that they’re just fun to be with – they enjoy a good fart joke more than anyone I know.
If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice when you first became a father, what would you say?
I’ve learned that it’s sometimes best to get out of the way and trust my children (and their other Father). My sons are very close. This has always been a value at the core of my parenting. Yet this didn’t happen because of me. They did it themselves. Despite any underlying feelings of competition, my sons genuinely want what’s best for each other. They always have, which is really quite remarkable to me. I’m sure there was something in my presence and bearing that conveyed this ideal, and I certainly nurtured it whenever possible. But I really can’t take credit for it. It was something bigger, and I was simply wise enough to allow that to permeate.
I’d also remind myself that every phase is replaced with the next one. Sleep returns, even if it’s the fitful sleep of worrying about a young adult pushing curfew. The freedom of independence comes about, even if it takes with it the physical accessibility that leads to the rewards of hugs and playful wrestling matches. One era ends, taking the ups and downs with it, but it is always replaced with something new. And the journey is sublime.
Any other comments to share on fatherhood?
I’ve focused on me as a father in all of my comments. That’s not fair. My wife is the most gifted mother on the planet. She was born to be a mother. Her instincts and willingness to partner with me as a parenting team is the foundation and core of my parenting experience. I wholeheartedly trust her judgment as a parent and I’m awed at the depth of her maternal well. She made me a father and makes me a better father every day.
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