Every night, when their eyes are sleepy and the yawns are coming fast, I flop down on the big bed beside my two oldest kids and smile and talk to them.
It isn’t always easy, but being a divorced dad who only gets to have his kids fall asleep under his roof for half of the week has taught me a lot about appreciating everything about having them in my life.
Even when they drive me completely nuts.
Even when I wish I could squish my eyes shut, count to 10, and turn Violet, 6; Henry, 4; and Charlie, 1, into three quiet little pebbles for just 20 minutes or so.
And I guess, in a way, that recognition of how much they mean to me is what led to these very cool talks we’ve been having at bedtime lately. I get up on the bed with Violet and Henry (as Charlie sleeps away over in his crib) and the first thing I do is catch each of their tired eyes with my own.
“You know what?” I always start with. “I was really proud of you guys today. I was really proud to be your Daddy.”
This is a pretty generic statement. I know that — don’t get me wrong. But you’d be amazed at where it takes me, where it takes us. For starters, it kicks open a million different doors for me as a parent to bring up any part of the long, gone day that I want to. Sometimes I tell one or both of them how proud I was to be their Dad just so I can waltz right into a reminder of something kind of crappy that happened.
“Henry, remember how you wouldn’t listen to me in the grocery store when I was asking you not to touch the jars on the shelves and then you ended up knocking that big jar full of artichoke hearts down onto the floor, and it broke and glass and artichokes and artichoke liquid made a massive mess all over the aisle?”
I’ll be smiling as I say this, remember. Just a chilled-out tone, like we’re discussing some perfect day at the beach or something.
Then Henry will remember and he’ll smile too, faintly at first, always uncertain if I’m going down a different road then the one I am.
“And remember how you cried so bad and then started screaming really loud when I picked you up and put you in the shopping cart and told you that you had to ride in there for the rest of the trip because you had really messed up bad?”
He’ll nod gently, his smile wavering a little. Sometimes I reach out and stroke his hair right about now, or his sister’s if she’s the one I’m addressing, just so they know that we’re all good.
“Well, you know why I was angry with you at the time, right? You know I still really love you, right? But remember how you didn’t listen to me at all there in the store and then we ended up making a big old mess that someone had to clean up?”
He’ll move his little head to show me he gets it. “I wanted to show you the jar and see if we could buy it!” he’ll offer up in his cute, lame little attempt at an excuse.
“I know. I know, man. And listen, the point is, we both learned something today. We learned that when Dad or Mom (I always put her in there, too, just because I’m cool!) says you shouldn’t touch something, it’s probably a good idea to listen, huh?”
He nods again.
“But check it out. I also learned that you make me so proud sometimes when I least expect it!”
His tired smile comes back big and curious. I keep going.
“Because after you were in the cart and done with all your crying and yelling and all, you finally calmed down and told me that you were sorry. AND, even better, you told me that you really wanted to buy that jar of artichoke hearts because you wanted to try them to see if you liked them! I though that was pretty awesome, dude. I was really proud of you for that.”
And so it goes.
Some nights I just tell them how proud I was of them because they brushed their teeth when I asked them to, without a lot of fuss. Or maybe I tell them that watching them play together with the neighbor kids — with no one getting into any scrapes or ending up crying — how cool I thought that was.
It really doesn’t matter in the end, you see. I’m so far from perfect, so far from the Dad I dream of being someday that it isn’t even funny. Yet my heart is true, and my love for these three kids is bigger than I can even understand.
Me telling my kids how proud I am of them at the end of every day is just my way of letting them know that all is well. That we are solid. That Dad loves them more than he can ever possibly explain. Even if they break all the jars, even if they brush their teeth with chocolate sauce and sugar. Even when they slip off the tracks, I’ll be hopping up on their bed no matter what.
Just to remind them both that Dad loves them.
Just to let them know that I’m so damn proud to be their Daddy.More On