What Makes a Great Father

As we were wrapping up our trip to the lake this week, running back and forth to the house trying to pack, but also trying to pack in every last bit of fun, my foot landed on an unfortunate clover, and an even less fortunate bee, who let me know in no uncertain terms that my presence was not appreciated. Though I’m not dangerously allergic to bee stings, my body does respond with some pretty nasty swelling. Once upon a time when I got stung on my eyelid before the start of fifth grade, I returned to school with one eye swollen shut and, thanks to the popularity of Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame at the time, earned an unpopular nickname. 

So by the time we loaded into the car, I was hobbling on a painfully inflated foot and doped up on Benadryl. My husband drove us home while I propped up my leg and dozed next to him. Once back home, he unloaded the car while I took more medicine and collapsed into bed, imagining I’d be healed by morning.

Three days later, and my foot still looked like a balloon from some strange birthday party and felt like the bee’s army of friends was stinging it from the inside. And so I’ve had to rest more, had to realize I can’t spend all day running around the house despite how much work needs to be done, because in this phase of life, there are not a whole lot of invitations to sit down. But from my perch on the couch, I’ve gotten the opportunity to notice more, too.

I’ve noticed how my husband effortlessly and without question picks up my slack. I’ve noticed him seamlessly sliding into his role as father, transitioning from work mode to dad mode in a moment, and handling all the things both those roles entail.

“I’ve got dinner covered,” he texted, as he waited to pick up the groceries I couldn’t manage to get to.

When he got home, he played with the kids to give me a break. He corralled them into cleaning up the mess that had grown around us like weeds. He heated up dinner and fielded the million requests for water, no water with ice, carrots, but not these carrots, warmer, but not too hot. He swept them towards bed, then swept up after them.

“Just leave those dishes, I’ll do them tomorrow when I’m feeling better,” I said guiltily. I hate feeling like I’m not able to contribute, not pulling my weight, as if parenthood is some equation that needs to remain balanced.

“I’ll just do them now, it won’t take long,” he replied. He’s realistic enough to know there’s no such thing as perfect balance in parenting, and kind enough not to hold it against me.

When a child woke in the middle of the night needing help, he got up with her. When the baby cried restlessly, he laid beside and comforted him. When one kid, and then another, woke at the crack of dawn and I was still bleary-eyed from Benadryl, he took care of them while getting ready for work as I rested.

Watching my husband rise to meet the children’s needs the past few days has been both extraordinary and not at all. Because that’s just the type of father, the type of person, he always is.

Patient, kind, thoughtful, funny, competent, present, intuitive, resourceful. Great.

He doesn’t ask me what needs to be done, he just does it. He’s not reluctant in his role as father, he’s all in. He doesn’t overlook the kids or just give them the bare minimum of attention, he submerges himself in their world. He doesn’t abuse the power he holds in their life, he makes them feel heard and respected. He doesn’t shirk the unpleasant work, he rolls up his sleeves and gets his hands dirty.

And all those seemingly simple things, all those minuscule but monumental moments are what makes a great father. It’s not the grand gestures or the trips to Disney World. It’s not buying toys or ice cream (though he’ll never pass up an opportunity to share a snow cone with the kids). It’s not giving them everything for one day, but giving them something everyday.

It’s about acting with with consistency and being there with integrity; for your children and your partner. It’s about being silly and playing and stepping into their shoes. It’s about listening and learning together. It’s about doing the million thankless tasks that parenthood requires – cooking and cleaning, dishes and laundry, diaper changes and mid-night wakeups.

Being a great father isn’t showy, it’s simply showing up. All the small things that add up to the biggest thing over the course of a lifetime.

And I’m lucky enough to parent with a partner who not only realizes that, but embodies it everyday. I’m lucky enough to watch my children grow up with a great father.

Happy Father’s Day to all the great ones! Keep showing up and changing the world.

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