I am not one of
those guys who complains about the time he spends with his kids. I know many
such men, and I don't know whether they truly mean it. Perhaps they just feel
self-conscious about admitting that they enjoy playing with dolls and having
tea parties and doing kids' stuff. Perhaps they think the social expectation is
that they must always want to go out with their friends and drink beer and talk
about football. I have no idea why those men do what they do and complain about
the time they spend with their children. I only know that I am not one of them.
I enjoy playing with
my daughter and spending time with her. I enjoy reading to her, listening to
music with her, playing the guitar for her. I enjoy teaching her new things and
going to the playground with her. When she watches a movie, I like to sit on
the couch with her; and if the cartoon movies she likes to watch hold little
interest for me, I always have a book or a guitar nearby to hold my attention
while we sit together. Invariably, she scoots her way right up next to me and
either lays her head on my lap or holds my hand while she watches.
The contentment I
feel at times like these cannot properly be described, but I'm certain that
every loving parent knows what I'm referring to. There is a deep sense of love
and satisfaction that comes with being loved by your own children, and it's
among the best feelings in the whole human experience.
wonderful as it is, it still managed to sneak up on me and surprise me this
My wife has been
traveling for work the last couple of weeks, leaving me alone to care for our
daughter. Even before she left, my wife had a long list of things she wanted to
get done before she traveled, so she was working late and going to late work functions,
which left me even more responsible for giving our child the care she needs.
For about three weeks, I had to take over many of the childcare
responsibilities my wife and I typically split, and for two of those weeks it
was just my daughter and I at home.
We made it, of
course. It was a bit mentally exhausting for me, mostly because I had to keep
in my mind a lot of new things associated with the tasks my wife usually takes
care of. There's also another dynamic at work. When an adult spends lots of
time with children, and not a lot of time interacting with adults, that adult
starts to feel an odd sort of lack. It's a little bit like loneliness, but not
quite. Mostly it's an unmet emotional need. Children, after all, cannot be
adults for us and cannot offer us the kind of interaction that we get from
adults. That's just how it is.
At long last, my
wife came home from all her traveling and we all had a relaxing day together. I
had promised my daughter that, the following day, we would walk to where I
could buy her a doughnut. It's a two-mile walk to get there, so four miles
round-trip, and my daughter is only four years old. Four miles is a long way to
walk for a four-year-old! But she was willing to do it in order to get her
doughnut, so we did. We walked the two miles, got a doughnut (I got a cup of
coffee), we sat and enjoyed our snack, and then we walked home again. We played
with our shadows on during the walk home, and we picked dandelions and blew the
seeds into the air. We even stopped at a playground and played for a while. We
spent the whole morning outside in the sunshine, playing together, walking,
having a doughnut, and finally made it back home.
When we got home, my
wife and daughter went to a baby shower, leaving me home alone for the rest of
the day. They hadn't been gone more than thirty minutes when my emotions
For the first time
in about three weeks, I had no present or future obligation to my daughter. We
weren't playing together or doing chores together, I didn't need to give her a
bath or drive her to school. I didn't need to soothe her and comfort her for missing
her mother. She was fine -- otherwise occupied -- out of sight -- being cared
for by her mother. I was home, alone. For the first time in three weeks, I
wasn't with my daughter, physically or mentally.
Where many men may
have felt relieved, or tired, or finally free to get something done, I just
felt a big hole in my heart. I missed my daughter so much, after having spent
so much time with her.
Well, I spent the
remainder of the day occupied by some weekly chores and a book, but I wasn't
good for much else the rest of the day. I shifted around absent-mindedly as I
tried to take my mind off the hole that was left when my daughter went off to a
baby shower with her mother.
Eventually they came
home, of course, and all was right with the world again. But the moral of this
story is that children create a space in a parent's life that wasn't there
before, and when they go, even for an afternoon, the void left in that space is
This is just one of
the seldom-articulated and difficultly described ways that children change a
person's life for the better.