“I can’t deal with him anymore right now,” I say hotly to my husband, temper flaring as it so often does when I butt heads with my preteen (who, ironically, is just like me). He always has to have the last word, which is punctuated more and more often with an eye roll or a door slam, harbingers of the teenage drama to come.
But my husband is the most patient man I’ve ever met, and the salve that instantly cools our son’s corrosive attitude. He puts an arm around him, and they go into the bedroom. I linger down the hall, listening as he soothes, always the voice of reason. At the end of the conversation, I hear him say what he always says: “Did you know you’re my favorite? Don’t tell your brothers.”
When he emerges from the 12-year-old’s bedroom, our 5-year-old pounces on him. “Daddy, can we play ‘horse scare?’” he pleads, referencing a game where they turn off the lights and Daddy gets on his hands and knees (even though after his knee reconstruction, it literally requires ibuprofen afterward) and they ride his back through the darkness. He groans good-naturedly and pulls our son toward him for a hug. “Turn off the lights, then,” he says. “Oh, and psst, did you know you’re my favorite? Don’t tell your brothers.”
He tells all four of them that, unbeknownst to the others. And they beam, every time, each happy to have this “secret” with their dad.
If I had been able to place a custom order for the father I wanted my kids to have, it would have been a lofty list. Give him the ability to help with hours of middle-school math homework without getting frustrated (oh, and the ability to understand middle-school math homework to begin with). Give him the desire to pass on things he learned from his father and the desire to be available whenever his kids need him, even if it means turning his work schedule upside-down to do so. Make him a shining example of what a man is supposed to be, so my kids can see him turning the car around to give his coat to a homeless veteran, and volunteering at a food bank, and stopping to help a distraught motorist with her flat tire. Load him up with an arsenal of eye-roll-inducing “dad jokes,” because really, no dad is complete without them.
I couldn’t place a custom order, obviously. But it doesn’t matter, because by some wonderful stroke of luck, my kids and I got all those things and more.
He’s stern when the occasion calls for it, even though I know he hates to be. But even when he’s forced to lay down the law, our kids are still undeniably certain that deep down, he’s the biggest mush when it comes to them. They know that he would go to literally any length to keep them safe and make them happy. He is present, valuing his time with our family, making it a priority, always coming up with new things to do together.
He teaches them small things like how to bait a hook, and big things like how to treat people and how to work hard for what you have. He tells them they can be anything, that he’s proud of them no matter what, and he means it. He is their most vocal supporter, their provider and protector, the one who helps them problem-solve everything from a broken bike chain to a broken heart.
Like any mother, I want the best for my kids. And I couldn’t ask for a better gift — for them, and in turn, for me — than the kind of father that he is. There is nothing sweeter to me than watching him watch our children with love and pride written all over his face. Nothing more valuable than the knowledge that someone else feels for them the way I do.
We tend to take the best aspects of our lives for granted. There are parents out there who must do it alone, who have to be both mother and father; kids who grow up with dads who abuse or neglect or leave altogether. I’ll never forget how incredibly lucky we are. I’ll never stop taking those little moments to peek in on him when he’s with our kids, being the dad they need at that exact time — whether it’s fun dad or firm dad or supportive dad — and feeling my heart swell with gratitude.
So while his socks can’t seem to walk themselves to the hamper and he doesn’t always rinse the stubble out of the sink when he shaves, I can look past it. Because putting up with those things is a very small price to pay for the big, big value of a good father.
He’s my favorite. And I want to tell everybody.