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On Being Dad …

by gwolinetz on June 22nd, 2015

I don’t often have time to reflect on what it is or what it means to be a father. I’m typically too busy trying to get my kids to listen what I’m saying (or even acknowledge that I’m saying anything at all) to even have time for that. And jeez, who has time to think at all really? Most of the free moments that I get, I spend staring blankly through the TV, the computer or a book. Yesterday, I let my mind wander for like 90 seconds and I missed the goddamn exit on the New Jersey Turnpike. For me, thinking can even be dangerous (in the very first world sense of the word danger).

But fortunately, at least for me, I got a couple of minutes to myself yesterday. I got to thinking (and please remember, it’s dangerous when I think) what it means to be “Dad.” There are two people in the world that call me that. They’re still pretty little. When we play with the little toy basketball hoop in the house, I still reject the shit out of all of their shots at the basket. So I’ve got some time before they begin to see me as just a regular old dude with flaws as big as anyone else and before they can ferociously dunk on me.

At the risk of eliciting a giant “duh”, being Dad is a giant responsibility. It’s an amazing responsibility and it’s typically a pretty fun one, but that doesn’t make it any less huge. I’ve tried to attack it as an exercise in restraint more than anything. Offer advice, but let them try to figure things out on their own. Be there to lean on when they need you, but don’t hold too tight because you need to be able to let go. Get that finger out of your nose, because you don’t know where that finger has been. That sort of thing. You want them to figure out and interact with the world on their own terms.

But what I never stopped to think about, what I never took enough time to consider, isn’t what me being Dad means to my kids. I’ve thought plenty about that. No, I never thought about what being Dad means to me. There’s a story I think about often, which happened shortly after my son was born and I was walking my daughter to school. I was eating an apple, which was the only thing that I was going to have a chance to eat for a while, when she asked for a bite. I gave her one, then took one myself. And she asked for another. And after we went back and forth for a bit, she said “We’re sharing now.” I’m kind of an emotional guy and this one really hit me hard, because in that moment, I was very aware that those moments wouldn’t always be there for me to enjoy. Eventually, she’ll get older. And she won’t think about sharing an apple with her dopey old man. Then she’ll get married, have kids of her own, and I’ll be old and staring into the vastness of a cold, empty Universe wondering where it all went.

Wait, I’m off track here.

The point of that story isn’t that my kid is going to grow up. Of course, she’s going to grow up. The boy will too. That’s what kids do. Hell, I watch them do it every single day. What does being Dad mean to me? What’s the point of all this? It’s not just about me passing on things that are awesome, so that they have a decent point of view and I feel like a success as a parent, a man and a generally awesome fucking guy. It’s not just teaching my kids that people are people, so treat them how you’d like to be treated or that Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers are fucking awesome or that the New York Rangers are the greatest hockey team in the world. Those things mean a lot to me, but they’re very micro concerns. At a macro level, for me, it’s actually more about acceptance.

In the end, most of our lives are spent awkwardly searching for acceptance. Accept us for what we think or how we feel or what we want to do with our lives. Or even simply accept us for who we are. Under the veneer of this man of magnificent splendor lies the same guy who has always just wanted to fit in, to be a part of something bigger: a group of guys, a soccer team, an international cartel. Whatever.

And that’s what I get from my kids. It’s not just unconditional love; it’s unconditional acceptance. No one in the world accepts me for me like my kids do. They accept me for who I am, warts and all. They still run and hug me when I walk through the door at night. And truth be told, I couldn’t dream up a place I’d rather fit in.

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