The moment she sees me step into her first grade classroom, her eyes light up and shine — and my heart explodes in my chest.
I mouth “Hi!” to my daughter and wave my goofy dad wave right as some of her classmates turn around to see what the ruckus is all about. Part of me is secretly hoping she doesn’t get up and run over to grab me up in a big hug just yet. (I don’t want her teacher to have to tell her to sit back down as she gives me the nasty eye …)
But then again, that’s a damn lie. Deep down I wouldn’t care if any of that happened.
As it goes, Violet beams her toothy smile straight into my face and then turns back around to pay attention to her teacher. I sigh. I turn around to say hey to the other parent volunteers for the Halloween party today. Then boom: it hits me.
Same as every other time I’ve volunteered at my daughter’s school. Ugh. Really? Hey, nothing against all the cool moms or anything, but really? Where are the other dads at special events like this? Why is it always me and the moms? Why is it feeling all 1954 up in this classroom?
The natural reaction from most dads, of course, will be the expected one: “I have to work. I can’t get away from my job.”
I get that. Well, to a point.
I work from home and so I understand that I have a bit more flexibility when it comes to much of this. For some fellas it simply isn’t an option to walk out of the office or off the job site to go help a bunch of elementary school students climb into their Darth Vader or Butterfly costumes. Reality beckons and work comes first. Fine. I see the real point there.
But then again, sometimes I can’t help but wonder if maybe a lot of dads just don’t try that hard to make it happen. I’m going to go out on a limb here — based on what I’ve seen in exactly ONE elementary school, mind you — but I have this sneaking suspicion that a lot of dads are unconsciously using the work/job thing as a free pass, as some kind of “Get out of Second Grade Valentine’s Day Party Free” Card, if you will.
After all, none of us have to dig too deep through our own history to say the same thing as the next guy, “Hey, my dad never came to my classroom when I was a kid.” Many of us probably went through 12 years of school and never ever saw our fathers show up in our classrooms except maybe once or twice to talk about operating a bulldozer or arresting bad guys on Career Day.
In that light, though, let me ask you one thing. Wouldn’t it have been pretty darn cool if they had shown up?
Nowadays, when I see Violet light up at the sight of me walking into her classroom, when I sense how excited and proud she is to have me there so she can introduce me to her school friends or show me the construction paper owl she made, I have to be honest, my heart races alongside hers. Sometimes I’ll just stand there in her classroom and look at her being a first grader in the thick of it all, and I have to bite my lip to keep from blubbering with pride.
In a lot of ways, whenever I head into school, I’m not merely taking time off of my own work to show up for a class party or help kids work on a little project. It’s way bigger than that.
When I volunteer in my kid’s school, I’m helping to break apart an ugly, outdated mold. I show up and right away I get this odd feeling that maybe I’m helping push society a little further along towards a better kind of world.
When I look around a 21st-century school and I don’t even see one other dad there — but I see probably 100 moms — it dawns on me that so many cool, modern fathers simply don’t realize the Stone Age stereotypes they’re helping to perpetuate by excusing themselves from the overall experience.
You think those moms aren’t busy? A lot of them work full-time jobs, too. Or if they don’t, maybe they take care of their other young children all day long — the most demanding gig on Earth. Still, there they are volunteering, again and again and again.
For me, probably the worst part about any of this is that most dads, even the very best ones out there, don’t even realize what they’re truly missing out on. The ability for any of us to re-enter the Kingdom of Childhood is pretty much impossible and we all know that. But every now and then there are ways, and volunteering even just once or twice a year is one of them.
Being there with your young son or daughter in their world, in their classroom, is this ultra-rare opportunity to touch a certain kind of magic we’ll never know any other way.
Look, let me break it down here. This classroom volunteering thing has been one of the coolest things I’ve done in my entire life — both for my daughter and also for me. And I’d hate to see other dads miss out on something like that.
I really would.