It’s been some time since we’ve done Growing Together here. Mostly because my little boy has been growing a ton on his own and that takes quite a bit of time and energy!
But I am thrilled to bring it back today with my friend Eli. If you have not yet met Eli of Coach Daddy then you are in for a very special read today. Eli is a truly gifted writer. His comments here on my words often bring me tears and at Coach Daddy he talks about being a dad to his daughters with humor, sensitivity, and grace. The lessons he talks about below are ones that I am in the process of learning and I love his perspective.
Let’s be honest: A man’s growth can often be measured in toilet seats lowered, socks and underwear deposited in hampers, or ability to hold eye contact with a significant other while a college girl in yoga pants decides to do the downward facing dog pose just inside your peripheral vision – while wearing a T-shirt of your alma mater, no less.
But we fellas – dads specifically – deserve a little more credit than that.
While I don’t dispute an affinity for all-you-eat chicken wings and NFL Sundays spent lovingly engaged with the 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. televised games, there’s a higher calling for growth I find myself in I wouldn’t trade for a lifetime of laziness and easy-going caveman behavior.
My growth has come incrementally, sometimes in sweeping change, more often in subtle movements, and even at times in lessons that appear on the surface to be lateral at best, huge leaps backward at most. Because in this role as father and teacher to three rambunctious, life-filled and confident girls, the lines between teacher and pupil stay about as clear as my discipline plan and well-defined as my well-hidden abs.
I’ve learned to think like a woman, but move like a man. Let me explain that.
I think we men operate on extreme spectrums of the emotional scale in many cases – either devoid and sensitive as a cactus, or over-wrought and apt to swing high and swing low like far-sighted pirate in a sword fight. You know this guy. I’m pretty sure Ke$ha and Pink have sung about him, and not lovingly.
The critical balance comes in retaining the emotional awareness I often envy in women with the come-as-it-may ability to roll with the punches many of us dudes have made an art of. How do you channel a little Gandhi with a touch of Muhammad Ali, a bit of Confucius with Yogi Berra mixed in the animated exuberance of Chris Rock (Madagascar version) and single-minded persistence of Yogi Bear?
Turns out, there’s one answer: One day at a time.
What I’ve learned:
Failure in the moment – or the day, week, or a good, stinking month of crashes and bombs – doesn’t mean it’s game-over.
Failure to “get it right” in the business world can lead to a pink slip. In a romantic sense, you could get dumped. Fail to pay the rent on time might mean you and your favorite recliner get a new spot on the sidewalk.
But if you yell at the kids when the offense wasn’t so great, or you didn’t think they’d care if you wore a bucket hat in public, they’re going to be ticked. At the end of the day – or at least when they’re asleep enough for their brows to unfurl – you’re still their daddy. And you’ll have the next day to get some things right, others wrong, and a lot of stuff in between.
They’re listening, yes, but mostly, they’re watching.
Elise, now 15, was just a baby when I found a sack of groceries in a basket in the parking lot. My first instinct? Heck yeah! Mountain Dew, snacks … wow, a pack of razors! I could use this stuff.
She was just a baby. Younger than 2, and would not remember this night her dad took the bag of groceries someone left behind.
I brought it back to customer service. I tell this not because I’d like a medal for it, but because it was if my conscience had bopped me upside the head and grunted, “hey, dope. Your actions are going to speak louder than words with this kid. You’d better start getting it right now.”
More important are those times in traffic when someone swerves in my path or the opposing coach in soccer bellows some insult to my ancestors or face or I lose the car keys I should have put in the right place to begin with. How will I react?
They’re also watching to see if I’m listening.
Distraction and 24-hour fast food: Both dangerously easy to find. It doesn’t mean you should indulge in either. If I’m easily distracted from making dinner or getting to practice on time, how I can expect the girls to feel any sense of concentration?
If I can’t look up from my laptop to hear their stories from school or questions about homework or requests to color, toss a ball or play UNO, how can I expect them to listen to their teachers, their coaches, or their parents?
If I won’t look them in the eye, smile, let them vent or brag or entertain, how can I expect them to know how to do this on their own, when someone really needs them? Like their own kids?
Thing is, while they’re learning, I am too. I see growth as less a process, more of a frame of mind. A constant Under Construction sign placed in a place of prominence.
Living the life of the growing dad, it turns out, is as easy as putting the lid down.
Go on over and visit Eli at Coach Daddy.