My oldest, Tristan, was behind me at his soccer practice. On the playground in front of me was my youngest, who is five, using what seemed to be an endless amount of energy. My middle daughter was home, with her mother, doing homework. And I was sitting on a park bench, having the time of my life.
Chasing all the kids at the playground was a 20-something young father playing tag. He was jumping off the equipment and going down the slides. He was in boots and work jeans, and it was after 6 p.m. so he obviously still had the energy to work all day and then chase his children.
Not only that, he was really into it. And he kept giving me side eye that seemed to say, “Why aren’t you out here? Why aren’t you more engaged?”
And I kept looking back at him, and sinking further into the bench.
Listen, 20-something-year-old dad, you’re awesome. I want you to know that. I give you props. I think playing with your kids at the park is exactly what you should be doing in your 20s. When I was a young dad with only one small child, I did exactly what you do. I chased the kids. I played tag. I ran and jumped and went down the slide. I did all that crap.
I cannot fully describe to you how important it is to savor those moments where you can do nothing.
But now, I’m almost 40. I’ve got three kids who never seem to stop wanting and needing and climbing and begging and asking. They range in age from 5 to 12, and with that sort of spread, I get to deal with the extreme disinterest of a tween and the “I’m going to lie about using the toilet” nastiness of a grade schooler and a middle child who feels like she is never being heard.
I work two jobs. My back hurts. All.The.Freaking.Time. It hurts when I sleep, and it hurts when I walk, and it hurts when I, well, do anything. I get shin splints pretty easily, and my hemorrhoids grow agitated with even the gentlest of physical activity. And sure, I could bite down, and suck it up, and play on the jungle gym with my kids. Heck sometimes I still do. But honestly, I’m old enough to admit that my body is getting a little too worn out for that sort of thing, and I don’t feel bad about it whatsoever.
I get up before 6 a.m. without complaining, and I’m dead tired by 8:30 p.m., and that’s without chasing my kids on the playground. I drink more caffeine than anyone in the history of ever. I wake up in the night and stew over bills and how my children are doing in school. I have work stress and marriage stress. I have stress that likes to climb on top of my stress.
But more importantly, outside of my body pains, general feeling of fatigue 24/7, and consistent anxiety that seems to be the staple of parenthood, I’ve also grown to appreciate the simple moments when I get to sit on a bench and do absolutely nothing.
I cannot fully describe to you how important it is to savor those “do-nothing” moments. As you were playing with all those kids, giving me the side eye, no one was climbing on me. No one was asking for a snack, or that I settle an argument, or find his or her shoes. No one was fighting, or complaining, or crying, and perhaps after being a father for 12 years my standards have gotten a little low, but sitting on a bench at a park while my kids entertain themselves in my idea of bliss.
And yeah, I know you will read this and roll your eyes. You will probably tell me to man up, or some other hyper masculine crap. Or maybe you will make a snide remark to yourself about how much fun I must be at parties. Or possibly just assume I’m a crappy father — which, I would like to state, I am not.
In fact, none of this is a commentary on parenting at all, good or bad. It is a commentary on what it means to get older. It is a commentary on what you think means good parenting in your 20s, and what you can stand to do as a parent in your late 30s.
Perhaps after being a father for 12 years my standards have gotten a little low, but sitting on a bench at a park while my kids entertain themselves in my idea of bliss.
What this all boils down to is that as you get further into this whole parenting gig, you value those few moments to yourself, and you grow comfortable with your children figuring out a few things on their own. You become comfortable with not being their only source of entertainment. And you start to understand and value those times when you can just sit and breathe.
You’ll get there.