Father of the Year

hammock (2)I made a mistake – the kind that hurts the people you love.  It happened when I got lazy with my words and insulted husband in front of our daughters.  It started innocently with a conversation about Principessa’s birthday request last year – to take a surfing lesson with Dad.  Neither had surfed before but husband easily picked up the skill, like most agility-related things he tries.  Peach remarked that she’d like to learn to surf and would like to take a lesson.  “No need,”  her sister remarked, “Dad can teach you.  He was really good.”  To which I absentmindedly replied, “Maybe not.  He’s a horrible teacher.”  Ouch.

Husband got angry.  I got defensive.  Later that night, having managed to strip myself of stubborn pride, I sat us all down for an apology.  It was a teachable moment at my expense about taking responsibility for one’s words and attitudes.  All this to say that my transgression made me reflect on husband with less of an ‘I’ve been married for 19 years and have earned the right to say what I want’ mentality, and more of a compassionate ‘Look at the magnificent man I just threw crap at!”  (This, the same man who tried to teach me to snowboard and almost knocked my teeth out with his knee, which is why  I say he’s a terrible teacher.  But I digress.)

Husband is the man who, when accused by the teenaged Principessa of being disconnected from her, Googled articles on fathers and daughters to better understand how to mend their relationship from her point of view.  Despite his efforts, Principessa holds tight to her assessment.  I’m led to believe by parenting experts that this is normal separation-type behavior and completely age-appropriate.  Whatever, it’s still frustrating.

Because Principessa doesn’t know what a great dad she has. I’m fairly certain that my father didn’t research ways to connect better with me. The parenting standards were different.  An elderly friend offered this generational divide – she said she had a good father, one who didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t beat her.  Oh yes, and he didn’t give her away when her Mom died.  Lucky girl.

When Principessa pulled her wild card – the one that reminds us that she has only one year left in our house before college so we better appreciate her  – husband called her bluff.  He proposed a year-long commitment between the two of them.  During the 52 weeks until Principessa graduates, they would commit to one day per week to do something together – just the two of them.  He did the math out loud, “That’s 26 ideas apiece. Sunday nights.  You and me.”

It sounded a bit like husband was challenging Principessa to a street fight, but she accepted the terms nonetheless.  I sensed nervousness on both sides.

As you can imagine, it’s been a rough start.  Finding time is always a challenge.  But neither are willing to surrender.  They bake together, go out for ice cream, exercise….and they sometimes argue.  But at the end of the day, they’ve made a deposit into their relationship bank account.

I suspect that the significance of husband’s efforts will bounce fruitlessly off of Prinicipessa’s  surly attitude.  Like a typical teen, she’d die before she’d release her claims that Dad is uncool.  Lucky for him, teenhood is not a permanent condition.  I envision a day – far, far, away – when Principessa will reflect on this time with appreciation.  “We had such fun!” she’ll say.  Husband will repress his desire to strangle her and will reply, “Why yes, we did.  We always had fun.”

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The Costume Party of Life

sneakersWhen nine-year old Peach’s eyes lit up at the sight of these sneakers, I couldn’t share her enthusiasm.  In fact, I was repulsed and had to bite my tongue to avoid hurting her feelings.  What will people think?  Should I let her buy the sneakers and risk being teased?

I fretted over the decision while texting husband for support, and tried, unsuccessfully, to convince her to want a more socially acceptable pair of school shoes.  It was comical, really.  Me thinking that I could influence her taste because I wanted it to be in line with my own.

Eventually I came to my more evolved senses and stood by the ‘live and let live’ philosophy I claim to subscribe to. I do believe in, and have preached to my children, tolerance for the differences of others.  Clothes, hair, and jewelry  are all harmless forms of self-expression that each is entitled to.  We can’t take these things too seriously.  They’re part of the costume party of life.

One could say that the costume party extends well beyond appearance.   We cloak ourselves in images – good girl, leader, hero, bad-ass, geek, bookworm.  Whether intentionally or subconsciously, we pick out words, deeds and attitudes that suit our unique style and earn us labels.

I warned Peach about labels and the potential fallout from her choice, before allowing her to purchase the sneakers.  She resolved that ‘If anyone makes fun of me, I know it’s their own fear talking.  I’m not going to be bothered by someone else’s fear.  You taught me that, Mom.’

Did I?  Bravo.  Remind me to practice that one myself.

Recently I became privy to a conversation between two close relatives on the subject of Peach’s sneakers.  “What was Deb thinking?” they wondered.   “ Yes, children have individual styles, but they need guidance.  That’s a mother’s job.”

What this person really meant was, a mother should mold her children into a limited scope of acceptable, squeezing them into the one-size-fits-none gender biases.  Determined to be as fearless as Peach, I defended her decision and mine with the conviction of the greatest of feminists.  I contend that it’s not a mother’s job to feed into the insecurities of others just to make them comfortable.

This Halloween, Peach pretended to be Coco Chanel – signature black dress (with pants underneath, of course), pearls, hat and yes, the ‘boy’ sneakers.  She educated us on Coco – the gutsy, progressive, designer with male-inspired style.  We marveled over the Coco Chanel story, laid out in an inspiring video montage.  After watching it, Peach declared, “Mom, someday you’ll read about ME in chapters, just like Coco Chanel.”

Yes, Peach, I bet I will.

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