I used to feel like a substandard Mom.
When we first had our daughter Jubilee, I took my cues from my wife on how to interact with her. Jubilee’s mother would read books to her, sing her songs, cuddle with her and stare into her eyes… She could do this for hours.
So I tried it. On mornings when it was my wife’s turn to sleep in, or when she went back to work and I had a day off, I would do all the things i thought a parent was supposed to do.
Unfortunately, it drove me crazy. It was fun for about ten minues and after that it was really boring. Every day the nagging feeling that I really wasn’t enjoying this grew stronger. The only logical conclusion was that I was a bad Dad who didn’t really like hanging out with his daughter.
One morning I got up with Jubilee at 7:00am and really gave it my best shot. We cuddled, we rocked, we cooed at each other, read books, sang songs. After resisting the urge for a very long time I finally looked at the clock. It was 7:15.
This was not sustainable.
“Jubilee.” I said. “We are going on an adventure.”
I packed Jubilee up in her stroller, loaded it up with the necessary supplies and equipment (it’s kinda like playing Oregon Trail) and left the house. Nothing was open yet, so we walked around the neighbourhood and I showed her different trees and their leaves. We went past our old apartment that “worked just fine until you happened.” At 8:00, we went and got a table at a cafe and I ate breakfast, read my Bible, and journaled a bit. Jubilee was endlessly entertained by my keys taped to her stroller. Afterwards we went to the park and lay on the grass and watched clouds. We ran into friends while we were there and hung out with them for a while. The time flew by, and it was the best day I’d ever had with my daughter.
I realized that morning that when my wife and I hang out with our adult friends, it looks very different. She can sit with her friends talking for hours. I can, too, and sometimes do. But more often my friends and I do something together. We get out of the house and go somewhere. We play a board game or video game. We have a project we’re working on. It makes sense that the time I spend with my daughter would also look different.
This isn’t to say that as Jubilee grows up she won’t need her father to sit and talk with her for hours – I am excited for that day! It’s just that I often get the feeling that when we talk about “parenting” we consider it synonymous with “mothering.” But I am not just a substandard Mom. I am, in fact, a standard Dad. “Fathering” is a whole separate art in of itself, and it’s one in which I need to grow and develop in order to be the father that Jubilee needs me to be.
I sometimes hear other fathers refer to the days they have to watch the kids as “mommy days” and I couldn’t disagree more. That’s called a “daddy day” and you and your kids will have a much better time and a much better relationship if you make it your own. Ever since I took ownership of figuring out my own ways to spend time with Jubilee – how to make her laugh, comfort her when she cries, teach her about love, about God, and about the world – I have enjoyed the role of being a father so much more immensely. I’d also like to think I’m doing a much better job at it.
(As I write this, my wife hands our daughter to me, saying “go to Daddy!” My response: “I can’t be Daddy right now. I’m writing a blog post about it.” This is an example of doing it wrong.)