An Elephant Never Forgetshowtobeadad
I’ve talked before about my father’s issues with boundaries and not being around as a father. When I look back on my life with him, I have a great deal of affinity for and tremendous frustration about him. I’m unraveling it all since he’s passed away. He was a gifted man in so many ways but also impeded the hell out of himself in waves of trouble.
His forgetfulness was one such failing.
I read today that British Prime Minister David Cameron accidentally left his 8-year-old daughter in a local pub. They left to return home, two miles away, and upon pulling up to their residence realized she was not there. While reactions have been mixed, though primarily sympathetic, I have a bit of history with this one.
My father accidentally left me three times that I can remember. Two of them in another country.
Instance One took place on a sunny day in San Francisco. Nice weather in San Francisco is so fleeting you could add it up in terms of hours per year. My dad went to a pay phone by the playground to call my mother in the Marina district of the city.
“You should bring the boys down here; it’s a beautiful day.”
“They’re with you, Stephen.”
“…Yeah, I can see them. They’re on the jungle gyms.”
Could happen to anyone right? Crisis averted. No harm; no foul.
But Instance Two and Three took place in France. My family took a hiatus from life in 1987-1988 and travelled through Europe. We began in France and had been in Paris for a couple of weeks, when Instance Two happened in a gift shop near a local subway. I probably got distracted by a toy and he probably got distracted by a joint. Similar problems.
Time lost: 3 minutes.
But Instance Three was the kicker.
We were in Nice, France, and the French weren’t being particularly gracious to me and my brother, the noisy American children. My father had an artist friend he wanted to visit that afternoon, and my mom mentioned that my younger brother was due for a nap. Dad took my hand as we descended in our metallic French elevator. We sprung that cage, travelled down the road, hopped in a taxi, and then arrived at a ubiquitous café to see his friend. Afterwards, we browsed around inside a small art store. He had a thing about getting me pastels instead of crayons.
Dad came back to the hotel just as my brother was waking up. He started to recount his meeting, when my mother interrupted him and asked where I was. She repeated the question with more feeling. He had left me behind. She screamed at him, livid. Apparently, she told him to go get me. I’m sure speaking those words to him were all she could do to stave off the impulse of hurling him through the filigreed window dressings.
After 15 minutes of losing my mind and running around speaking in tongues, I sat myself down in the middle of the last place my father and I were together, the pastels section. When he reached me I was numb. Totally cried out. I had been effectively scared to death. Honestly, I can’t fault anyone who tried to help for their lack of English comprehension. I barely understand my own son when he sobs through his words, and I’m a native speaker.
So, there’s a part of me that wants to hate Prime Minister Cameron like my mother shunned my father for the duration of our time in France and Italy (they finally made up in Greece). Another part of me understands the toll that daily life takes on keeping priorities straight, orderly. I mean, I’ve never forgotten to put on pants before I’d left the house… Yet.
But maybe we can use this scenario to hone in on the real issue. Distracted parenting.
Whether it’s stress-related, substance-induced or otherwise, we’re the 911 operators and air traffic controllers charged with watching out for our kids. I’m not talking about helicopter parenting or implanting GPS-locator chips in our kids. What I’m ultimately saying is, let’s use Mr. Cameron’s experience as a wake-up call to be sure we balance our lives in a way that prevents mistakes. As much as HUMANLY POSSIBLE. We should take the lead that elephants set and move a bit more slowly, more deliberately. Maybe that’s why they remember so much?
On that note, I’d like to confess that I left my coffee on the roof of my car this morning.
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