You Got This
June 15, 2019: You Got This
I’m at the Dripolator enjoying strong coffee, a muffin, and the company of my husband and our friend. Enjoying the particular ease of being together but each in our own writing or reading project. I’m feeling slightly guilty that I’m not fishing. This is not something I ever thought I’d feel. But most of my colleagues are on the parent-child fishing trip we organized for the participants in our Upstate Fatherhood Coalition. Tomorrow is Father’s Day, after all.
I’ve been there three months now, and as Director of Development, I am more and more often called on to describe and promote our organization. Mr. Kelly Walker, UFC’s founder and Executive Director, was recently interviewed on WSPA’s morning show. He is intuitively good at describing the organization in a way that resonates with each particular audience.
I told him I’d watched the interview a few times to try to emulate his delivery. He said, “Don’t say what I say. What do you say?”
I started stumbling around some wording I’d been trying out and he closed his eyes, swayed his head slowly side to side and said, “Tell me about your father.”
“How’s your relationship with your father?”
So I told him a little. My father is an amazing man and we’re closer now than we’ve ever been. I wish he’d been more involved with us as kids, but that wasn’t what his generation did and he was working really hard to provide for the family.
I was surprised at how much emotion Kelly’s question generated. He wasn’t.
“Talk about that,” he said. “Talk about how Upstate Fatherhood Coalition is an organization that helps engage fathers in the lives of their children, not just as providers, but in the everyday moments of their lives. Cause we do. Talk about how we show that being a provider is about being present, not just about money. Cause it is. Talk about how we teach men to be the fathers they never had in their own lives. You know this. You feel it. Find your own words and then speak from your heart. You got this.” Then he hugged me.
Sometimes when I’m teaching my kids something new, say, beating eggs with a whisk, I use my left hand to remind me how unnatural it feels at first. How you have to train some muscle memory just to make the physical circle before you can finesse the part of not sloshing eggs out of the bowl. I’ve been sloshing words around in messy puddles for three months, but I’m beginning to get it. It helped that Kelly could hear beyond what I said to what I really meant.
It reminds me of this exchange I overheard a few years ago when Emma was beginning to talk.
As a child, the best times with my dad were in his workshop. I have a very early and visceral attachment to the mingled smell of sawdust and kerosene heater. Dad was purposeful but relaxed in his workshop, and I learned that if I didn’t ask too many questions, maybe swept some sawdust, that I could hang around with him, maybe occasionally help hold a board he was cutting. But it was just the being with him that I liked.
As adults, Dad and I discuss our beekeeping hobby and the logistics of communal summer life. We talk a lot about church, which we agree on, and nothing about politics, which we don’t. Secretly, I think we’re both kinda embarrassed by how politically naïve the other is, but we tactfully don’t mention it, because we love and respect each other so much. It works, because it’s just the being together that we like.
Since my conversation with Kelly, I’ve been thinking about my parents—who they were and who I wanted them to be and how realistic either of those judgments were. Because now, of course, I’m wondering how my own children think of me—who they think I am and who they want me to be, and whether that’s even possible.
I’ve been watching other parents. How other people’s lives sometimes look easy and magical from a distance. In public I think my family appears pretty magical, too. And I’ve been really fortunate to develop some close relationships with the parents of my children’s friends and classmates. No one’s family life is easy or magical, no matter what their Facebook page looks like. Still, those public pages aren’t wrong, either. Sometimes life is that beautiful, even if that image doesn’t capture the complicated layers—the bickering right before the picture or the nagging right after. And sometimes we need those pictures to remind us to pay attention to the beautiful moment, to remind ourselves that those moments do happen—even to us!—and they should be celebrated. It’s just the being together that we like.
Jack will be 11 next month, and it’s taken me this first decade to appreciate the occasional, glorious, everyone’s-happy-and-getting-along day. My mistake had been to think, ‘Okay, whew! We finally made it to this state of normal I’ve been working for! Now I can relax.” Instead, now I know to drop whatever other plans I had for the day and wallow in the wonderful serendipity of an unearned grace. Because tomorrow is gonna suck. Always the next day is hard. Now I reschedule the errands and chores for the day that’s going to be hard anyway.
If you needed it, I could show you tons of research that shows the importance of fathers being engaged in their children’s lives. Not just married to the mother and all living in the same house fathers. All fathers engaged in their children’s lives in some meaningful, consistent way. When that happens, all children stay in school longer. Boys are less likely to be incarcerated. Girls are less likely to get pregnant. Everyone’s risk of poverty and suicide goes down. Fathers matter.
Ironically, I’ve been trying to feel my way into a description of the importance of fatherhood while I, myself, have often described my own purpose beyond parenting. I’ve been denying the everydayness of the purpose that’s right in front of me—teaching my children to sit still in church, finish their homework, be kind. Whisk eggs. Hold a board steady. Help clean up. Love each other when we agree and when we don’t. Play fair, even when others don’t. Brush your dang teeth already.
Jack’s been at Scout camp this week—first time being away from home that long. We’ve all missed him like crazy. Emma’s drawn him around 45 cards. Mark insisted on being to one to go bring him home. I’m listening out for their arrival even as I type.
So I think it’s okay that I’m not fishing. What I am going to do today is tell my dad how much he means to me. I’m going to hug my son and let him play on his tablet with his sister. (Though he might have to take a bath first.) I’m going to thank my colleagues for their witness and commitment. And I’m going to share a nice bottle of wine with Mark to celebrate what a wonderful father he is.
There are so many ways to be a father, to be a father figure, to be a parent or coach or teacher. Find your own words and speak from your heart. It’s just the being together that we like. You got this.