For as long as I can remember, I have always had visions of my future. It might have started with M.A.S.H… (the childhood game, not the TV show). I loved and hated that game. I loved thinking about my future and hated how unrealistic these hypotheticals could be. I’ve always been a dreamer, but I scale back my dreams to realistic steps I can take. At eight years old, I saw no realistic step I could take toward marrying River Phoenix or living in a mansion.
I remember my childhood with no father.
Actually, being raised by a single-parent, I really didn’t see a reason to marry at all. My mother was smart, successful at her job, and didn’t seem to have any trouble finding a date. She also didn’t need to compromise on whether to buy nonfat, 2%, or whole milk. Nobody was home to challenge her idea of raising me and my sister. As far as I knew, nobody fought with her about how she chose to spend her money. It seemed to me like a life of little conflict for her, and it made great sense.
What I didn’t see as a child were the potential benefits of compromising, or of having two perspectives come together to raise children, or the checks and balances of handling money as a family. I got married knowing I would have to reframe my idea of family – the idea that a husband actually was important, the idea that children benefit greatly from having their father living in the same home as their mother and loving her. Studies show that children coming from homes in which a father figure is present are less likely to have emotional/behavioral problems, less likely to be juvenile delinquents or prematurely sexual, have better access to healthcare and education, and are healthier (source). According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, essentially every contemporary social issue has a “father factor,” considering that 1 in 3 children live in a father-absent home.
I remember my childhood with no father. Thankfully, my grandfather was around for much of those early years. I remember him in his big blue Lazy Boy recliner shouting the answers to Supermarket Sweep and The Price is Right. I remember he never let me get too proud of my good grades. He was the first person to ask me, “Are you feeling bored at school?” and he asked me that every time I brought home a report card. My grandpa spent one summer with me when I was thirteen teaching me to cook and exploring my love of cheesecakes with me- we baked a new kind every week. He was incredible and funny and loving, but he was not my dad.
Not that I would know what I was missing. I mean, the dads on TV like Homer Simpson, Al Bundy, and Ray Romano didn’t seem very heroic to me. These characters were buffoons whose wives were usually irritated with them. They were treated like idiots. I know I’d watched reruns of old shows like Leave it to Beaver with my grandparents where the dad seemed like a kind, smart, and respected guy. But I was getting the picture that those dads didn’t exist post-1960’s. According to television, modern husbands needed mothering and caused more work for their wives than even their kids. This poor depiction of fathers only encouraged any ideas I had that a husband, a father to my own eventual children, would be of little use to me.
Tony, you’re going to be a dad.
Now married, at twenty-nine, though Tony and I were actively hoping to get pregnant, I really didn’t know how to share the news with Tony that he was about to be a father. Would he suddenly turn into this bumbling dad character? Would he be scared, frustrated? I should have known him better than that.
The day came quickly. On Mother’s Day 2009, my friends had all been so nice to me and no less than five of them had asked if I was pregnant, claiming that I looked “so happy and pretty.” It seemed too soon, Tony and I had only recently stopped using birth control, so I wanted to shrug it off. I never mentioned these comments to Tony, nor did I mention that I had decided to take a pregnancy test the next morning after getting out of the shower. This way, when it turned out to be negative, I could just stop thinking about it. I took the little test, though, and sure enough– pregnant! I was surprised, but more than that, I was worried what Tony might say. I dawdled for forty-five minutes, doing my hair and makeup, before finally, nervously, calling him to the bathroom. “Honey, can I show you something?”
With an awkward grin on my face, I walked out, holding the little straight piece of plastic. Wordlessly, I handed it to him and waited. He studied it for a few moments, realizing what it meant– we were going to have a baby!
He looked up and asked me if I was okay. “This is a good thing. I’m really happy. Are you happy?” and… HUGE SIGH. He said just what I needed to hear– no, more than I needed to hear. We hugged and smiled, called nobody, and went for a walk.
What I couldn’t have known that day was that he was only experiencing a fraction of the joy he experiences now as a dad. I didn’t know dads could be so enthralled! I didn’t realize that, though I saw some of our other friends become fathers and though I’d had friends with loving dads, I still carried this perception that fatherhood was an unwelcome burden. Parenting was for women. Fathers, even if they stick around, don’t actually enjoy their children. I am so thankful I’ve been wrong!
I see it now. I see everyday how Tony loves our girls – he’s crazy for them. I see how I need his clear headedness when I’m so empathetic toward our two year old that I let her bamboozle me into an eighth bedtime story and just 20 more minutes of snuggling. I see how our girls need him, how they admire him, how they benefit from having a man who adores them, how secure they seem to feel. I see a future of raising daughters who know, beyond a doubt, how a real man behaves – with integrity and strength and kindness. I see them making choices differently than I did because they have a father who will not allow them to settle for anything less than to be cherished and respected by anyone who would want their attention. So, as the co-leader of a family of my own, we are doing things differently in our home. We are declaring in our everyday routines that, not only do we love daddy, but he matters immensely.
How our family intentionally declares that Dad Matters:
1. Daddy Does It
There are a few things in our home that “Daddy Does”. One of them is bath-time. A friend of ours told us, when I was pregnant with our first daughter, that her husband really enjoyed giving their baby a bath. She told us that infants, especially those who are breastfed, spend so much one-on-one time with their mothers that bath time was the one thing Dad could do with his child on his own. We took this to heart and this has become part of our normal to this day. Daddy does bath time, and he loves it! I was also informed by our two year old as I pulled into the gas station the other day that Daddy pumps the gas. “No mommy, you don’t get gas. Daddy gets gas. You’re the mommy. Daddy does it.” I got out and did it anyway, realizing she was right as I have only pumped gas 3 other times this year. Listening to her it made it that much more clear to me that our girls recognize the special things that “Daddy does” to take care of us and make our lives easier. Daddy drives. Daddy plays guitar. Daddy plays piano. Daddy will fix it when he gets home.
2. Dad Decides
I haven’t always been, but now I am home full-time with our girls. That means I am calling the shots around here the majority of the time. Then, Daddy comes home from work, or is home with us on the weekends, and it’s important to me that they know he has authority. Claire might ask me, “Mommy, can I have some juice?” and, though I am just as capable of making the decision during the evening as I am during the day, I reply “Well, let’s ask Daddy.” I don’t ever want my girls to believe their dad is a bumbling anything. I don’t want them to have this illusion that I make all of the decisions for our family on my own. Tony and I are a team, and since they are mainly experiencing only part of the team during their waking hours, it’s important to me that the see-saw gets tilted in his direction in front of them as much as possible. I want them to respect their father, not to dismiss him.
3. Dad Prays
This might sound archaic, but it’s important to us. As much as we are able, we sit down together to have dinner as a family. When we do, we all wait for each other – yes, even the baby – and when it’s time we all fold our hands – yes, even the baby – and Daddy prays for us. On occasion, I will pray. But that’s maybe one out of fifty times. My intention here is not unlike the first two points – I want our girls to have a visual for their father’s authority, leading, and care over our family. But, it’s more than that. I want them to see for themselves that their dad loves God. Having worked for five years in ministry, I know of so many families where Mom is the one who prays and takes the kids to church. Dad, if he even attends, shows up dragging his feet begrudgingly. Our girls know that sometimes we don’t all drive to church together, but not because Tony won’t come. It’s because he left early and will be volunteering there for most of the morning. They know that our church community is important to us – to him – and I hope the ways he actively pursues his faith by praying with and for us and by giving his time will only increase their admiration for him as they get older.
4. Daddy Loves Mommy
Tony never withholds affection from me in front of our children. He always hugs me for a long time when he comes home from work, he’s got no problem kissing me in front of them. We hold hands, we sit close, and we talk. If I am talking to him and our two year old interrupts, he corrects her immediately. “Claire, Mommy is talking and I want to hear what she has to say. When she’s done, you can have a turn.” We problem solve and make decisions together in front of them, like where we want to eat out for dinner, or what music we want to listen to. He compliments me to them, “Didn’t Mommy make such a yummy dinner? Doesn’t Mommy look so pretty? Isn’t Mommy so kind?” As much as it is important to me that our girls have a healthy respect and love for their father, it is just as important to him that they feel that way toward me. As they see that he puts me first before them, it only adds to the security they feel about our family. Daddy loves Mommy, we all love each other.
As I reframe what family means to me now that I am the adult and no longer the fatherless child, I run into hiccups here and there. But, I am thankful that Tony and I are a team. I am thankful that my own girls will have the opportunities I never had – to be taken out for special dates with their dad, to go to a father-daughter dance, to be walked down the aisle some day and given away to a man who will cherish and respect them in the way their dad cherishes and respects their mother. But, if I were to ever consider throwing in the towel on this marriage, if I don’t continue to put in the effort it takes, I will have taken these and many other opportunities away from my girls. That price is much too great for me to ever consider anything less than to #staymarried.
P.S. If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by! ~ Michelle
“Fatherhood” Photo Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography