There really is no break from my children’s gaze anymore. And I know, you should be transparent with your children, and I believe that. But do they really need to hear how I sound in a work meeting? Do they need to know that I’m the guy that says, “Let’s unpack that” or “What I think we’re missing is…”
Well … now they know I’m “that guy.” They’ve also seen me, and my wife, stressed about the possibility of losing our jobs. They’ve heard their parents discuss their savings, and how long it could last without one or both incomes, and what it would look like if we had to move, and how much we might be able to get out of our home in a worsening economy. Luckily we didn’t lose our jobs, but it’s still a looming threat that we live with, and discuss, and well… we can’t seem to keep that from the kids, because we are all here, together, living through the wild year that has been 2020.
They’ve seen me depressed because all this staying indoors isn’t good for my mental health. They’ve seen me anxious, and tired, and bored. They’ve seen me get real quiet, and only respond in grunts or nods because my anxiety is so bad right now. I sit and wait for the next bad thing to happen, and wonder if there will ever be a reprieve from bad news, and bad stories, and I can’t seem to find a way to shield them from the way I’m feeling.
They’ve seen their parents fight over chores and bills, and distance education obligations. They’ve seen us anxiously discuss what to do in the fall: send the kids back or keep them home, both of us wanting school to be open because it would make our work obligations, and our life, all that much easier, but knowing that if it can’t be done safely, than we want no part of it.
They’ve seen me not have all the answers, particularly when it comes to keeping them safe from COVID infection. They’ve seen me confused as I’ve tried to navigate the contradictory information. All of them ask me questions that I can’t answer, and point out contradictions that I can’t explain. I’m struggling to keep them safe, and to help them understand how to keep others safe, as we navigate the ever changing landscape of living through a pandemic.
I don’t have my commute to blow off steam anymore. I don’t have the transitions between work and home to change my mood. I don’t have the social outlets I once had — like church and friendly gatherings — to vent, and so it all comes out sideways in moments where I’m moody, or frustrated, or sad. Every emotion in my arsenal is right there in front of them, no blind spots.
And yet somehow, after witnessing the messy truth that is their father living through a pandemic, they still want my attention and guidance and snuggles before bed. My kids are still asking for my advice, and looking to me for comfort when they are confused or sad, or not sure where to turn for answers, and there’s something really wonderful about that fact.
The other day, my son told me his best friend was moving to another state to be closer to family. He’s 13, and he got a little misty. He told me that he’d wished they had more time together when things were normal, and I told him how something similar happened to me when I was a kid. I told him it sucked, but it’s part of life. Then I told him that when it happened to me, however, things were normal, so with this happening in the middle of a pandemic, it must be twice as bad.
In a situation like this, I never know if I’m saying the right thing. But what I do know is that my son just hugged me for what seemed like a very long time, and I realized that even with me being a mess of a father right now, and the world being even messier, I could still be there for him — and he still wanted me to be there. When he finally let me go, I said, “We’re in this together, bud.”
In that moment with my son, and all the others during 2020 where — despite my very visible flaws — my children have needed me, and I have been there for them, I realize that there just might be one silver lining in this pandemic. My kids love me as much as I love them, even after seeing the sides of me that I usually try to hide from them. And in their unconditional acceptance, I find reassurance that maybe I don’t have to hide so much after all.