Caught In The Act
Here’s how you know when you’re completely hosed:
When you arrive home after an especially disgusting day at the office, two whiny, clingy, catastrophically tired children greet you at the door. They grab hold and hang on you like a wet towel on a hook. When you finally unlatch their superheroic kung-fu grasps from your legs, you walk over to kiss your wife. As soon as your lips separate from hers, she says, “Don’t forget I’m going out tonight, honey. You’ll have the kids to yourself.”
A smart man would have run for his life. A man with even a shred of inclination toward self-preservation would have negotiated some sort of mutual understanding with his wife – an agreement that a personally offensive requirement such as this would need to be properly “appreciated” upon her return. But I am neither smart nor a particularly strong negotiator. I silently acquiesced because for some stupid reason I still feel an obligation to be a father – even in times when all I want is a beer and the remote control – because I just can’t get past the fact that I love those kids with the white hot fury of 7,000 suns. And lemme tell you, it’s a real inconvenience sometimes.
She left. She got into her minivan and drove away, abandoning me there with Marty McWhineypants and his lovely assistant, Sally Snottybottom. They kvetched all night. Daddyiwantsomegrapes. Daddycanyoureadthistome. Daddycanwehavedessert. Daddydaddydaddy. And when I sat on the floor and played Legos with them, it was never enough. The airplane wasn’t big enough. The monkey’s leg fell off. The house had no windows. “Fix it, daddy!”
By bathtime I was cooked. I hadn’t eaten dinner, hadn’t checked my email, hadn’t done a thing for myself. And still: the whining. The first three times I asked them to get undressed the response was this:
The fourth time was different. I didn’t ask.
“GUYS! LISTEN! I WANT YOU TO GO INTO YOUR ROOMS, TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OFF AND MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM IN 30 SECONDS. GO. NOW.”
My tone was sufficiently assholish to motivate action. Forty-five seconds later they were butt-naked, freshly pee-peed and standing under a running shower.
I left them there for a moment. I needed 30 seconds of peace – enough time to throw together a PB&J and fire up the computer. I began to wonder to myself how stay-at-home parents endure this all day. How do they stay sane? How do they—
It’s too quiet.
It shouldn’t be this quiet. This can’t be good.
I set down my sandwich and stormed back to the bathroom, all the while girding myself for the carnage I knew I’d see when I got there. “If they’re drawing on the shower door with my shaving cream again, they can forget about ever seeing the sun again.”
When I got to the bathroom, I looked inside and saw something that rocked me to my core.
He was washing her hair.
I stopped, backed up a step and watched in silence. They didn’t know I was there.
He spoke softly to her. He told her it was time to rinse (a step he knows she hates) and instructed her to turn her back to the water. He helped her bend her head back to let the water cascade down the back of her head. He positioned his right hand on her back for support and his left hand vertically at her hairline to prevent the spray from going into her eyes.
I felt a tear run down my right cheek. My chest wanted to explode. How do they do this? How do they become so special? And how do I forget that they have this incredible capacity to love each other?
Fatherhood plays tricks on you. It sets you up to pound your chest and raise your voice and demand compliance from your children. You learn to presume guilt. And then, without warning, it pulls the rug out from under your anger, leaving you out of breath in a blubbering state of gratitude.
I love that about it.