I'll never forget this day for as long as I live.
I took my oldest daughter to swim class (she was about two and a half at the time). After we finished the lesson, we found an open basketball court - and since her old man (me) used to play college basketball, I figured I'd show her a thing or two.
After about ten minutes of fun, I decided to let her enjoy the feeling of a slam dunk - so I lifted her up to the level of the lowered rim (about seven feet high for the kiddos) and let her drop the ball in. Being careless, I banged her mouth on the metal rim on the way down and there was blood everywhere. Luckily she didn't lose or chip any of her chicklets, but it wasn't a pretty sight. I rushed her to my SUV and did the best I could to stop the bleeding with the first-aid kit I had. The poor girl was losing her mind, so I sat with her in the car for twenty minutes just holding her and telling her that it would be okay.
Rationally, I knew it was an honest mistake that every parent reading this post has made in some variety. Irrationally, I felt like a failure, a loser, a person not meant to raise children. Once she calmed down, I buckled her into her car seat and I buried my head in my hands for about 30 seconds to gather myself. During that brief moment of self pity, I heard a soft voice in the back seat.
"Daddy, it's okay."
She knew I was hurting and she used the same words I used to comfort her a few minutes earlier on me. I smiled, went to the back seat of the car, and gave her more hugs and kisses. That moment in time encapsulated what it means to be a dad.
Although we're doing MUCH better in this regard than we were a few years ago, dads still aren't taken very seriously when it comes to parenting. In many circles we're just clueless/unwilling partners who need a whole lot of hand holding to do the job well. Society oftentimes doesn't trust us to do anything parenting-related (the lack of changing tables in men's restrooms is an example). Some moms (not all moms) don't trust us, so they'll micromanage the hell out us - which in turn, takes all of the joy and discovery out of fatherhood.
But then there are the kids. What about them? Shouldn't their opinions matter the most when it comes to how well we're doing the job?
When my daughter banged her mouth on that rim two years ago, it took a lot out of me emotionally. However, when she said, "Daddy, it's okay" - that was her way of saying she trusted me. Hearing "I love you" from a child never gets old, but there's something more powerful when a child says or shows that he/she trusts you.
- A child screams for Daddy in the middle of the night to fight the monsters in his room
- A child requests for Daddy to do her hair because she doesn't care what the end result looks like -she just loves the bonding time they share together
- A child asks for Daddy's advice to deal with the bullies at school
- A ten-month old baby smiles and yells, "Da Da!" the moment Daddy enters the room
The examples are endless, but they illustrate something powerful. Dads aren't wired with maternal instincts (which leads to a lot of parental insecurity on our end) and we're still fighting the stigmas and stereotypes society places on us - but at the end of the day, our kids trust us to do the right thing for them. The way we do things may not be "Mommy's way" or the "best way," but it's our way - and if the kids are safe and happy, that's all that matters.
Kids won't hold grudges or judge us if we make honest mistakes. They use their hugs, smiles, and kisses to say, "I trust you, Daddy. You got this."
And you know what?