“Dad! I Have to Show You Something.”

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Growth. It's a process.
Growth. It’s a process.

Uh-oh.

That can mean so many things.

“Daaaad! I have to show you something,” my five-year-old yelled from down the hall.

It can mean something was broken. Ugh.

Or just that he wants to show me a cool scene in whatever show he’s watching.

“Da-da! Daaaddddddd! Daddy! I have to show you something.”

It can mean a huge mess was made. Grrr.

Or that he created something fantastic and imaginative with his toys and craves my approval.

“Dad. Dad. Dad. Hey dadddddddddddddddd! I’m calling you. Can you hear me? I have to show you something.”

It can mean there’s a pukey or poopy mess. Gross.

I can usually tell whether the thing he wants to show me is good or bad based on his tone of voice.

But it was late. I hadn’t been able to sleep. Everything was surreal. Confusing.

I looked over at the clock. “It’s 3:29 a.m., asshole,” the clock said. “It doesn’t matter that you’re tired. It doesn’t matter that you have to get up in less than three hours. It doesn’t matter that you’re alone and there’s no one to help you. Get up. Take care of your child. He needs you.”

Shit. The clock’s right.

In the months leading up to our son being born, I spent a lot of time in our nursery which had previously served as our home office.

I would just sit there, in a comfortable old recliner from college—our baby’s in-room rocking chair.

That was such an exciting time. Such a hopeful time.

The walls were already a soft yellow. Gender-neutral. So we left it alone.

We never learned the baby’s gender during the pregnancy. Surprises have merit.

My crafty wife made some curtains. Our very first baby item was a mobile for the crib. I think we bought it with a gift card at Pottery Barn Kids because it was literally the only thing we could afford there.

I’d glance at the crib, picturing a little person standing inside, waiting for mommy or daddy to pull them out of bed.

For some reason, I thought we were having a girl. But I was guilty of slightly favoring a boy. Because of all of the fond memories I had with my dad and stepdad. I was excited to share in those types of father-son adventures.

Gender didn’t matter, though.

The love was swelling. As I visualized the child. Rocking him or her in that chair. Playing with him or her in the backyard. All of the future games the three of us would play. And maybe four, as at that point, I still hoped there would be one more joining the family, too.

Mom and dad. Hopefully son and daughter.

My little family fantasy.

Babies are Hard

They are.

It’s hard to take care of everything that needs taken care of in a day for yourself AND for another little otherwise-helpless human being. They don’t care that you’re in a hurry. They’ll puke on your shirt.

They don’t care that you just stopped a few minutes ago on your long road trip. They shit in their diapers. Really foul, awful shit, too.

They cry a lot. It’s really the only way they know how to tell you what’s going on.

If they cry, it means they’re hungry. Or they’re tired. Or they’re uncomfortable. It’s always one of the three.

Which is good because it doesn’t take long to solve. Universal problems. Universal solutions.

It’s funny that I wanted another child.

Because I was a bad father. Check that. I wasn’t a bad father. I was a bad husband to a brand-new mother.

Yes. That.

My wife got two children right away. Or at least, that’s how she felt. Because she had to take care of all of us.

When you have a baby, everything changes. And you have to make radical adjustments. Solve problems.

Two loving adults pulling in the same direction can figure out how to solve those problems together.

But when one parent doesn’t give as much as they take?

That’s how you make a new mother feel alone. That’s how you make a woman resent a man. That’s how you lose her respect. And eventually, her love.

She did it all. She really did.

She read all the books. She baby-proofed the house. She created his schedule. She managed all of his medical care. She organized his clothes and baby needs and always had the baby bag packed and ready to go.

She made all of his homemade baby food. It was an awesome system.

She found the daycare family who, to this day, still cares for our son.

I’ve failed many things in my life. Many things.

But I’m not sure I’ve ever failed anyone harder than I did my wife during the first year of our son’s life. I was lost. And so was she.

But she figured it out.

And I didn’t.

Not until later. Not until the day we were both sitting on our deck one afternoon having a beer in the sunshine and I asked the question: “Am I the reason you didn’t want to have more kids?”

“Yes,” she said. “That is a big part of it.”

Growing. Always Growing.

Both of us.

Father and son. Twenty-nine years separating us.

But still. Growing. Every day.

The weather has been terrible. Absolutely frigid temperatures. We got six inches of snow overnight two nights ago. But right now, it’s in the mid-40s. It will be 50 tomorrow.

Those temperature swings make people sick.

My son developed a cough from sinus congestion. He coughed so hard, he vomited right when he got home yesterday.

I cancelled my plans for the evening to focus on him.

We watched a couple shows. Had dinner. Had his nightly bath.

We practiced his “sight” words. Little flash cards. His writing is improving. His ability to figure out what a word is based on the letters is really impressing me. He’s learning so much in kindergarten. I feel immense pride when he shows an ability to problem solve. Hell. I feel immense pride all the time.

And here we are, six years later. Only he’s here now. All those visions dancing in my head turned into a real flesh-and-blood person. A sweet one. A funny one. A smart one. A loving one.

One capable of the stubbornness of his parents. Of the irresponsibility of his father. Of the antics of many small children.

But still.

My son.

Everything I could have hoped for sitting on that recliner late into the night six years ago, daydreaming about fatherhood.

And now it really is fatherhood. It’s not just me leaning on my wife (now ex) for direction, even though she still gets a lot more right than I do.

I’m here. Really doing it. Really being a dad.

“White.”

“Blue.”

“Three.”

He rattled off his sight words as I flipped through the handwritten flash cards.

“Is.”

“The…

“Hey dad! Did you know ‘the’ is the most-important word of all the words? It is. I know it.”

I flipped to another.

“I don’t know this one, dad. You say it.”

“You can figure it out, bud,” I said.

“Wa. Ah. Te. What!”

I love when he figures things out on his own.

“Very good! Yes! That spells ‘what’!”

We read a book. He spotted the word “lion.”

“Hey dad! I know a secret code.”

“You know a secret code?”

“Yes. He pointed to ‘lion.’ If you take out the ‘L’ and the ‘I,’ it spells ‘on.’”

I laughed.

“Yes it does. Very good!”

It’s such a joy seeing their little minds work. Grow. Morph.

Little miracles.

He was coughing really hard. Even after the cough syrup.

He’d rolled off his propped-up sleeping position. Laying flat, the coughing frequency and severity increased.

“Dad! I need more water!”

I still use his last remaining spill-proof sippy cup for his nighttime water cup. I’m not sure whether that’s bad, given his age. I don’t like cleaning up spills.

I had fallen asleep around 9 p.m. and woke up at midnight just in time to catch the second night of the excellent and hilarious Jimmy Fallon rocking The Tonight Show.

I couldn’t get back to sleep.

Tossing. Turning. My son coughing down the hall.

Hot. Cold. Busy mind. More coughing.

“Dad. I need to show you something.”

It was 3:29 a.m.

I walked down the hall. He was sitting up. Wide-awake.

“Hey man. Why aren’t you sleeping? What do you want to show me?”

He climbed out of bed and walked to the hallway closet and opened it.

He pointed inside.

There was a humidifier sitting there.

A device that hadn’t left the closet since the last time my ex-wife used it.

I smiled. I have no idea how he even remembered that was in there.

Smart kid.

“Okay. You get back in bed. I’ll take care of this for you.”

I put the basin in the sink to fill up.

I ran downstairs to grab salt—the crappy iodized table salt—not my delicious Kosher salt I use for all my food prep.

I salted the water, not bothering to measure.

A couple minutes later, the humidifier was sending hot steam into the air. Relieving my son’s congestion.

My little man.

Thinking for himself.

Solving problems.

Helping himself.

And helping me, too.

Growing.

Always growing.

63 thoughts on ““Dad! I Have to Show You Something.””

  1. A sweet read. 🙂 Funny about dads sometimes…they have to grow into the job. Often, “they” let “us” (moms) do as much as we can but it takes two for balance. You are doing great–I know because of the detail in your words. 🙂

    1. Thank you.

      I didn’t spell it out, but I hope any young boyfriends or husbands reading got the message: My choices following the birth of my son doomed my marriage.

      When the pregnancy test comes back positive? We we first see those little miracles on the ultrasound images?

      THAT’s the time to start evolving. To work. To demonstrate love and unselfishness.

      If you don’t change along with the rest of your family, everything breaks.

      I learned the hard way.

      I hope others won’t have to.

      Thank you very much for saying nice things. I have bittersweet feelings on this topic.

      1. I wish you could tell more dads this. It would mean so much if we all knew what is at stake before we lose it. I’m no angel but all we can do is try. My (to be ex) husband was really good at first–attentive and took up the slack at times when I was ‘dead’..he knew what it was about..marriage, family, but he let it slip away to chase what he wanted and not what the family needed. Today, he is raising a son by himself and relearning how much I did that he didn’t see. 😉 Enjoy all of the moments. Your writing tells so much. I understand more than you know.

        1. I know. The people who get it, really get it.

          That’s both good and bad.

          I wish more people could learn from my mistakes too. I just home a small few will. Every little bit helps.

    1. The great mystery of my life for the past 20 minutes has been trying to figure out what PL videos are…

      Google wants me to watch Premier League soccer. I feel certain that’s not what you had in mind. 🙂

  2. How touching. I actually got a little misty eyed at one point. The best part is that you are growing, you are moving forward and while yes, what a horrible way for you to learn how and that you even needed to, but you didn’t become stagnant. Baby steps into the elevator.

  3. Very sweet. Thanks for sharing, Matt. I doubt the parent-child relationship is ever a one-way street. You both will continue to grow and learn along the way.

  4. I don’t know if you’ve said these things to her, or if she reads this blog every once in a while and thinks “hey, maybe he’s not so bad…” or whatever it may be that she thinks. However, I can tell you that as a single mother who has never had the support of her ex (heck-he’s never met his kid or paid support or anything, by his own choice), I very much appreciate this post, and your entire blog.

    You know who you are, you know the relationship you have with your son, and you are learning. I applaud you!

    OAN: They have new steamers for sale at the WalMart that are designed for little pads that have the vapo-rub type medications on the pads. This works wonderfully to help congestion, both day and night, even in my 18 month old. I hope your son feels better, or will soon.

    http://alaynabellesmom.wordpress.com
    http://www.facebook.com/TyreeTomes

    1. Thanks for that.

      Some dads have to learn the hard way like me. Some dads never learn.

      Others knew from day one how to be unselfish.

      Thank you for your kind words.

      And thank you for the note about the steamers. My little guy is feeling much better. He’s even in school. Just “sinusy.” 🙂

      1. UGH! I hate sinuses. Oklahoma is so dry, I’m always running steamers for monkey and myself. I’m glad he’s feeling better!

  5. Hey Matt, sounds to me you are doing a “just fine” job of being a dad. Don’t beat yourself up too much – all he really needs is your love. I enjoy your blogs from the far side of the world!

  6. Kids are smart. We often times don’t give them enough credit for being able to figure stuff out. I remember how awesome I thought it was when my first born made his own bowl of cereal. I was happy and relieved that he was able to do it on his own from then on. Last week he finished drivers education. Man how the times goes so fast. Matt cherish these moments brother because it’s gone in a flash.

    1. I have no doubt.

      I’m trying. I really am.

      Thank you for the reminder, though.

      I definitely need to be taking more photos and video. I’m pretty bad at that.

  7. I spent a lot of time sitting in the rocking chair in the nursery before my son was born. It was a precious time, full of the future ahead.
    So many things you’ve written today have struck a chord. I’m one of those mums with an additional man-child. I want to ram his head into the computer when offers parenting advice, listing what ‘we’ (ie ‘I’) should be doing differently whilst barely looking up from Facebook. He always puts himself first. It’s no wonder resentment builds.
    But I also know that he pulls his weight in different ways. And fundamentally he tries to be a good dad and husband. (Your post today has reminded me of that.) He just hasn’t made the jump that I’ve had to, to put somebody else (your son) first. Maybe I should point him in your direction. Even older dads have some lessons to learn too.
    Thanks for your post today.

    1. I was pretty sure I wasn’t the only guy to commit this crime.

      But it’s still sad to hear (read) about it from others.

      Thank you for finding his positives and trying to maintain perspective.

      Always trade-offs. To everything. And every situation. I think, anyway.

      And I hope you and your family continue to grow and evolve and prosper and find happiness. As one.

      Thank you so much for your nice words. Thank you for taking time to read and think and feel anything about this at all.

      I really appreciate it.

  8. I will forward this to anyone who cares to listen to me. And when the time machine is invented, I’ll send it to myself and my ex.

    We both needed to read this.

    Yeah, men tend to drop the ball, but women tend to pick it up instead of confronting the issue. I don’t know, a martyr’s attempt to solve the problem maybe.

    Regardless, or until the time machine is invented, we’ll continue to learn from our mistakes and hope others will do better.

    1. It’s unfortunate we have to learn from mistakes. That they’re the best lessons. But they are. All we can do is share our experiences in the hopes that others can learn from them. And they we so not repeat them.

      Thank you, Dorothy.

  9. You’re learning to be a good Dad! Your son has a lot to be proud of. Just like you’re proud of him. Heartwarming.

  10. Somehow the Gods made me unfollow you. But I caught and corrected the grave error and all is right with the world (at least mine!) again. Aside from the emotional father/son elements in this post, I just wanted to say it’s a rare guy to mention in your blog all those little touches women do. ps. Where can I get a clock like yours?

    1. You’re too funny. I love it. And yes. Men are prideful. And afraid to admit failure. I am. Every day. But this process is making me braver. More honest.

      Thank you for making an effort to read. I appreciate it very much.

  11. Such a good post, Matt. I was eating out the other night and there was a young family at the booth across from us. A little girl sat in a highchair. She looked about 2. She was so cute, but like most toddlers, a handful- especially after that short precious window of sitting quietly is over and a toddler has to do what a toddler has to do. =) Mom was sweet and patient and keeping her entertained and dad was completely absent, absorbed in his smart phone. It was that way the whole time we were there. Very sad. I wanted to lean over and say to him “Look at your beautiful family. LOOK at them!! Someday they might not be there”
    It reminded me, like this post did, how alone I felt and was when Erik was a baby. G was gone when E was born, and often deployed for months at a time which was part of being married to a Marine, which was a choice we both made. But even when G was physically there, I often felt as though I was raising my son mostly on my own. And when people ask me why I only had one I know that is the reason. I didn’t want to go through everything alone again.
    And I well remember those humidifier days. Hope your kiddo is feeling better soon!

    1. He is, K. He’s totally fine.

      I’m glad you understand. I appreciate your observations when you were at dinner.

      I’m so guilty all the time of looking around and judging other guys. Guys I see doing a crappy job. Knowing how his words or actions are likely making his wife feel.

      And it frustrates me. On a variety of levels.

      Thank you for saying hi. 🙂

      1. And to be fair, I see moms ignoring their kids too. We are all becoming slaves to the smart phone. And I know some truly wonderful stay at home dads who could show me a thing or two about parenting. And from everything you write, it sounds like you are doing a fantastic job.

        1. I spend plenty of time on my phone. But I AM aware and try hard to give him my undivided attention when it’s time for us to play or learn. 🙂

  12. Matt, this was a great read, my daughter turned 17 today, and I related so much to you even though I am a mom 🙂 I absolutely enjoy following you ( oops sounds stalkerish lol) Cheers

    1. Thank you so much. It didn’t sound stalker-ish! I think most parents can remember all of those feelings we had leading up to the arrival of our children. I can’t understand, but I can appreciate, that there must be a very special feeling when you carried your child inside of you.

      I really appreciate you reading and saying hi. Hope you have a great night. 🙂

    1. Thank you. I have a lot of time to just… think… these days. It’s important to me that this not be a bunch of meaningless nonsense (which I do dabble in from time to time).

      Thank you for saying you like it. That you think it’s relevant. That you think I provide value as my son’s father.

      I hope he thinks so, too, when he’s old enough to think about it.

  13. An up side of divorce (if there is such a thing) is that it forces people to be better parents. Or maybe that it gives parents an opportunity to chose to step up and parent or not.
    In my marriage I was the ninety-eight percent parent he was the two percent parent. He was the “fun dad” & I was work mom because I had to take care of all the parenting business. Now he says that was the “deal” we had when we got married: he worked full time to provide for the family & I took care of the kids (and the cooking & the cleaning & worked part time). Funny, I don’t remember getting married just so I could parent alone.
    Now that we’re divorced he is more involved of a parent than he’s ever been. We’ll see how long that lasts though, it might partially be because he feels he has something to prove right now. Sound cynical? Yeah, I’m all out of Benefit-of-the-doubt to give here.
    On a lighter note, my oldest kid woke me up at 6:00am last Sunday saying “Mom, I threw up… sorry but I didn’t quite make it to the toilet.”
    Ugh! For half a second I debated staying in bed and making him clean it up (he’s 14 & I’m all about promoting independence & life skills) then I got up & took care of it. Because that’s what parents do. Next year though…

    1. I’ve been thinking about whether I agree with you. Whether I believe divorce makes people better parents.

      I think I know what you mean. The logistics of parenting.

      But I personally believe children benefit from their parents living together, and loving unconditionally, and providing the blueprint for their children to what marriage is supposed to look like.

      It’s not “parenting” in the way you meant it. But it’s parenting. And it’s instilling lessons that can last a lifetime for more than one generation.

      All that said? I’m a more attentive father than I used be. That’s a function of our time being cut in half.

      I try to make the most of the time we do have. I’m sure many parents feel that way.

      1. I didn’t mean divorce makes all people better parents. I meant it puts some parents in a position where they’re almost forced to be a more active & involved parent. I guess I wasn’t very clear on that.
        Parenting, like love, can be done actively or passively. To actively parent is a choice. Sure just by being around you’re parenting but not actively or effectively.
        I too believe children benefit from their parents living together in a healthy, loving relationship. I also believe parenting is meant to be done by two people working together. It’s way too tough to do it alone. BUT not all marriages are good or healthy & staying married just for the kids doesn’t really do anyone much good especially if it’s a destructive relationship.
        One of the things I worry about is teaching my kids what a marriage should be. What if I never get the chance to remarry and be an example of that for them? Their dad sure isn’t showing them (he moved a girlfriend he’d been dating a couple months into his home with the kids half time while our divorce was in progress & told the kids they’re “basically married”…while teaching them the ten commandments & reading the bible to them…but that’s another story for a different day (obviously one I’m not happy about)).

        And, as a divorced parent, I worry less about getting everything done & focus more on having fun with my kids when I can. So in a way divorce has made me a better parent too…though I was a pretty damn good one before too. 😉

  14. Wow, what a smart boy! You talk a lot in here about your failures, or perceived failures; ways you didn’t quite measure up to your or your (ex-)wife’s expectations. You and your son are a lot alike, as you both strive to solve problems as you see them. You’ll both be very okay!

    1. Thank you. I don’t do it to beat up on myself!

      I do it to drive home the lessons of my life to myself and to anyone who might benefit from them. 🙂

  15. Sometimes the things our children do that make us feel like craptacular parents is actually a nod to our success. Quite a boy you’ve got there…and some of that is because of you. Hope he feels better soon.

  16. Uh… Are we all just going to stand by while Matt trashes iodized salt like this? I was just preparing dinner and was washed over with a feeling of woeful inadequacy as I salted my french fries with regular – average – table salt…

  17. Pingback: The Family That Isn’t | Must Be This Tall To Ride

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