Spending some quality one-on-one time with the kids has been long overdue, and so, last week, I took my oldest stepdaughter out for coffee where we could chat about whatever over peppermint mochas and cinnamon coffee cake. Each of my stepdaughters are non-stop chatterboxes, but if you had to determine which is the fastest, Stepdaughter #1 would be the photo-finish winner. Not only does she zoom along at a mile-a-minute, but she also changes topics with the same fluid maneuverability as an Italian sports car weaving in and out of traffic.
“I can’t believe I’m over 5 feet tall. Did you know that my dad is 6 foot, 3?”
I actually am aware of this. I see her dad weekly, that and she’s told me a million times. With Stepdaughter #1, even though the subject matter may vary, she more often than not will tie it in some way to her father.
“Do you have Angry Birds on your iPod? My dad has it on his iPhone. He’s got the new Christmas version. Do you?”
I open my mouth, but it’s already too late.
“Ooo, look, Ron! There’s a Volkswagen Bug going by! My dad said he’s going to get me one for my 16th birthday.” She pauses just long enough to glance at me, and then keeps going. “Hey, that guy in line has Michael Jordan shoes on. Michael Jordan’s my dad’s favorite player.”
None of this is a new revelation.
“You don’t say,” I reply during the lull created as she sips from her grande mocha.
“Yeah,” she says, still swallowing. “I told my dad your favorite player was Larry Bird, and he started chuckling.”
I leaned forward in my chair. “Oh he did huh?” I am curiously amused.
* * *
There used to be a time when it bothered me to hear Stepdaughter #1 go on and on about her dad. I felt slighted that he was getting all the accolades while I did all the day-to-day grunt work of raising his kids. Now, it doesn’t matter so much.
Air Jordan and Larry Legend—our choice of basketball heroes is ironic. To a certain extent these two hardwood mega-stars represent who their father and I are in our parenting roles with the girls. He’s charismatic and a bit flashy, exuding that same fun vibe as watching an acrobatic MJ dunk. And then there’s me, hard-nosed, not as thrilling, rooted in the fundamentals needed to get the job done from one day to the next.
Ask a kid to pick between Jordan and Bird, and nine times out of ten, they’re going to go with Jordan. Jordan’s exciting; he’s cool; he’s air poetry. He’s simply a thrill. And so it is with Stepdaughter #1 and her dad. Plus, he’s her dad. Not a perfect analogy, but apt enough to make my point.
Even though my stepdaughters’ dad and I are both parents in our own different ways, we are not in a competition with one another to prove who’s better. That’s as pointless as trying to determine with definitive certainty, who’s the best NBA player of all time.
For Bird and Jordan, when they stepped out on the court night after night, they weren’t competing against each other—not really. They were competing against the game. It wasn’t about another player; they were competing against themselves to see how much better they could be.
I remember reading a passage in a biography about Larry Bird where it talked about how much Bird was motivated by fear—the fear of failure. I could identified with that. I feel that way in every aspect of my life to include fatherhood.
So when it comes to my stepdaughters and their dad, I’m not going to compete for the girls’ affections. Really, that’s insincere and selfish on my part. Champions go out a make themselves the best they can be, and when sincere, they in turn, make their teammates better players too.
Just as Bird and Jordan are prolific figures in the history of the NBA, so too will the girls’ dad and I be prolific figures in lives of the girls. But people can be prolific for different reasons, good and bad. So right now, I’m only competing against myself—working to become better and making my family better, motivated by a parent’s natural fear of failing any of my children, yet confident enough to always want the rock during all the most crucial moments in their young lives. Nothing but net.
* * *
Ron Mattocks is a father of five (3 sons, 2 stepdaughters) and author of the book, Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can’t Afford Vodka. He blogs at Clark Kent’s Lunchbox, and lives in Houston with his wife, Ashley, who eternally mocks his fervor for Coldplay.
Photo Credit: Lipofsky, Video: YouTube VCRchivist