The women working at the cash register passed the wicker basket of Dum-Dum suckers across the open counter and asked, “Are you helping Daddy today?” My daughters had too much of a moth like mindset as the basket of sweet treats approached to process and answer this question. They, thankfully, each took one sucker and said thank you before I lifted our bags filled with meat, vegetables, and fruit and we headed out to our car. They may not have heard what she said, but I did.
I’ve been a stay at home father for over six years and the question comes up in one form or another on a weekly basis. Things like “helping daddy” or “day with daddy” get put forth like a subliminal hint from the clerk to my kids. It’s like a secret message, “be careful today and don’t tax him too much, he’s only your dad.”
At some point in time dads became incapable of caring for small children. The same group of people who earned merit badges in Boy Scouts could hardly be expected to braid hair. I actually remember being in Boy Scouts and learning how to braid a rope before I could tie a square knot. Now we I do it at gymnastics, the library, or school people are impressed like I just tied my shoes with my tongue. Normally I just smile rather than say what I’m thinking, “yeah, thankfully this wasn’t as difficult to master as quantum mechanics.”
These braiding and other parenting skills took time to develop. Six years ago I was awful as a stay at home parent. I was like a high school football player that gets sent to play a game in the NFL, blindfolded. The list of things I didn’t know how to do was longer than the list of things I did. Even my wife was startled to hear that I didn’t know how to cook basic Italian dishes like lasagna, lasagna. A dish less complex than kindergarten crafts and one a collating printer could do if the marinara sauce didn’t gunk it up.
When we go places though people think I’ve stayed at this neolithic zone, like I was the caveman who decided not to learn how to start a fire, ride a bicycle, or hunt with bows and arrows. I am Homer Simpson and Al Bundy with the stomach but with the same hair.
I’m thankful that I get this tiny bit of discrimination. Being born white in America is luck you might only wish for, and the only adversity I can remember was in sports and Calculus 2. The former I had success with, the latter we’ll leave to another post. This small knick of disrespect from strangers can serve as a motivator to prove them wrong.
The largest lesson is that with time you and I can learn to do just about anything. Immersion learning is one way to learn a new language. You move to Italy and while boating in the Mediterranean you either figure out the language or you don’t. This was the same with parenting, though to be sure I’ve had a lot of help from family members as I learned this new dialogue of life.
To extend this metaphor to writing is almost too obvious. Writing well is another task I was always poorly suit for. Writing is like the newsboy hat that some men can fashionably wear, but looks as natural on me as it might a gorilla. Then again, I wasn’t cast for wearing the diaper bag with a Mr. Mom shirt either, but here I am. If I can immerse myself in the culture and keep my head above water I’ll be alright. The point is to not give up and keep moving forward and if I need help along the way, then I’ve got a pair of “Daddy’s helpers.”
// The photo is from an afternoon of Go-Karting, something my helpers loved helping with.