A dear friend of mine posted a story on facebook that valued a father’s efforts at about 20 thousand dollars. This included his manly duties of barbecuing, mowing the lawn, coaching and fixing things around the house. The story itself was somewhat shameless in its lack of a true understanding of what being a dad today has grown to mean and could easily have been written circa 1950 ala’ Leave it to Beaver. But I won’t waste my time dissecting the overtly stereotyping nature of the piece nor its over generalizations as I normally shy away from being so negative. But honestly, it was somewhat laughable.
The story did raise an interesting question however. How do YOU value yourself as a father? Another dear friend of mine told me to take a look in the mirror tomorrow morning and recognize what I’d accomplished over the past year, when time and time again, I had every opportunity to let adversity get me down. Divorce and the events that come with it can easily crush you. They can make you bitter and angry. That anger can consume you if you let it. Or, as I’ve witnessed with many dads, it can encourage you and exhibit strengths and powers you may have never known existed.
We all make choices on a daily basis that determine how we will be valued by our children. Every moment we’re faced with questions of how we’re going to prioritize the things in our lives and where our children fall on that list. It may be getting to work late to make sure a kid gets to soccer camp. It may be putting down the laptop to answer a question or demonstrating restraint from shouting at your kid out of anger. But every moment is an opportunity to put some coinage in the piggie bank.
Anyone who believes we’re valued as fathers by how often we mow the lawn is truly missing the point. As parents we all have opportunities to demonstrate true value through the simple act of showing our children by example how to handle everything that life throws at us both good and bad. We are more than just handy men. We are mentors, therapists, chefs, doctors, chauffeurs, teachers, friends, coaches, carpenters, architects, advisors, policemen, big brothers, and sometimes just dad. But regardless of what role we happen to be playing at any given moment, by just being a dad, the value of our time is infinitely higher than that of any handy man or gardener. (please take no offense if you happen to be a handy man or gardener … just making a point)
I think what was missing the most from the story I read was the lack of understanding that each family is defined so differently. The role of father is uniquely defined from home to home. In some homes the father’s role is more traditional where he works away from home 9-6 and mom makes the meals and maintains the house and kids. But more and more dads are playing an equal role in maintaining the home front. Just take note the next time you buy groceries at how many dads are carting 2-3 toddlers around. In some instances the dad is able to be there day to day. In some homes it’s week to week, in others month to month. For still others, like our military families, dad may be gone for months at a time. But however their actions are defined, their role is no less valuable than anyone other’s. Whether you’re there unplugging the toilet or on a six day business trip, I don’t think it’s fair to estimate a man’s worth as a father by how often he punches his time card.
The other truth the story ignored is that in some homes the lines between mom and dad are getting somewhat blurred. Now, I’m not about to turn this into a comparison between moms and dads. Because the truth is, there is no constant here. From home to home the roles differ. Everything I’m saying holds true for both moms and dads. But the title of the blog is “Life as a Divorced Dad” so … you know, I’m somewhat obligated to focus on the dad thing. (If you’re a mom, feel free to insert “mom” anywhere you see the word “dad.”) But back to what I was saying; our value goes beyond the time we put in. There is an innate connection between father and child that is immeasurable. There is a deep rooted truth to being a dad. A bond, a connection, a tie that can’t be broken by any event whether it be divorce, deployment or even death.
Let’s face it and be honest here. Not all dads are created equal. We all have our failing moments, some more than others. But like it or not, whether you’re a dad who’s there at every recital or one who sees your child once every six months; the reality is you’re influencing and affecting your kid’s growth and development every day by your actions or sadly, non-actions. That’s a truth that can’t be denied. Alive or dead, our fathers influence so many of the decisions we make on a daily basis from what we put in our bodies to how we manage money to how we react to our own children.
But today, let’s not reflect on our lacking moments, or on what we failed to accomplish. Rather, as my friend suggested, let’s look in the mirror and reflect on all of our accomplishments. Let’s look at all of the hurdles we overcame, all of the triumphs and moments we know our kids will look back on years from now and hold dear to them. How many seeds were planted, how many times did you pick yourself up when you didn’t think you had another ounce of anything left in you? Think of all the hats you wore this past year. Remind yourself of the victories large AND small. Consider the times your value increased simply by being there to reassure your son or daughter that you were with them even if only in spirit.
Think of the lunches and dinners you made, the bandaids you applied, projects you helped finish the night before they were due, the miles you put on the car driving to and from dance class, the soccer games you coached, the pounds of popcorn you popped on movie nights, the 500 diapers you changed, or your long distance phone bill, the grounders you hit, the bed time stories you told, the rules you reenforced, the gas bubbles you patted out, the fireflies you helped catch, the number of times you “ruined their lives,” the Christmas eve shopping emergencies, the 2 a.m. feedings, the swim lessons, the 6 a.m. jogs with your eight year old, snow days, sick days, birthdays, holidays, field days, field trips, trips to Build a Bear, the lake, the beach, hiking, biking, sledding, hugging, reading, loving.
You’re a dad. Regardless of how involved you are in your child’s life. You’re their dad. The only true dad they’ll ever have. You know it, they know it and the world knows it. And every waking moment of your life and their life, you are connected by an undying, unbreakable, unstoppable bond that even the grave can’t take away from either of you. That’s a truth you can’t put a price tag on.
20,000 dollars? Paleeeeaasse!