“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “On Being a Father” Chapter 96
By Bruce Williams
I was thinking about what it means to be a father recently, it being Father’s Day and all, and a myriad of definitions began swirling in my head.
Being a father means snipping the umbilical cord and sneaking cribside at night to make sure they’re still breathing. It means racing to the hospital in the middle of the night to cure a Croupy cough that sounds like something straight out of The Exorcist. It means maintaining your composure when your son only says five words by age two-and-a-half and they tell you he has autism, then withholding your urge to box their ears when they begin listing the milestones he might never reach. That same composure will come in handy when he flops around in protest on the floor of the speech therapist’s office or races around department stores opening all the hatches to the fire extinguishers whose placement he’s memorized.
By the time the second kid comes along you’re no longer checking the crib, you just want some damn sleep for crying out loud. You’ll wash your hands three times to get the diaper shit out from underneath your fingernails. You’ll learn to recognize the difference between a dramatic scream, a scared scream, and a scream of pain. When you hear the last one you’ll make it upstairs in four seconds, taking the stairs three at a time only to find your tiny daughter pinned under her dresser, her chicken-winged leg snapped in two, and then you’ll get her downstairs and strapped into the car seat somehow without jostling that little leg a lick.
It means driving to the hospital in a snowstorm when your son’s temperature soars to 106 and he begs you to “help me”—then spending five days next to his hospital bed watching helplessly as he loses 15 pounds.
Being a father means breaking bad news—“Your grandfather died…” “Your uncle took his own life…” “Ruby got hit by a car…” and trying to help them make sense of it all. It means being there for all of the worst times in their lives—their one constant—in the hopes of eventually being there for all the best ones.
Being a father means threatening to take the door off the hinges if it gets slammed one more time and don’t think I won’t. Try me. Of asking “Who exactly do you think you’re talking to?” rhetorically, when those teenaged lips start getting smart. Of carrying around a dark sweatshirt in the back of your truck in anticipation of your daughter’s first period, just so in case it happens on your watch you’ll have something to wrap around her waist. A lot of times it means just getting out of the way and letting them grow into what they’re becoming.
It’s glasses and zit cream and pancakes. It’s “I need $10” and “My science project is due tomorrow.” It’s so, so many glasses of water. It’s mysterious messes, it’s two dogs to replace the tragically lost one. It’s endless viewings of SpongeBob and Coraline. It’s chicken nuggets and cheese pizza. It’s unforgettable vacations. It’s first crushes and midnight ice cream. It’s wishing your grandmother could’ve met them.
Mostly being a dad is a lot of work and money, punctuated by those poignant moments that make it all worthwhile. Laundry, dishes, garbage, “What’s for dinner?” and a three-hour recital after work in which your kid performs exactly one song. Fatherhood is a job that you often get wrong and learn on the fly. It’s probably one of the most thankless jobs there is (next to motherhood, of course), and yet it’s been the greatest role I’ve ever played—the most rewarding and the absolute joy of my life.