Father's Day, Part 2

I thought, instead of waxing poetic about all the attributes that makes Chris a helluva dad, I'd just post my column from Sunday.

Dads may miss heyday hobbies, but fatherhood lets you dream
By Robyn Passante

To see what fatherhood does to a man, don't just look at my husband. Look at his stuff.

First look at his beloved drum kit, which once held court in its very own music room surrounded by other instruments and musical equipment. It's now stacked in the corner of our guest room, rarely played with force anymore, as such passionate solos have been deemed too loud for our 1-year-old son's sensitive ears.

Then check out that former music room, which is now a sunny yellow and filled with Haba blocks and bedtime books and a stuffed rocking caterpillar that sings "You Are My Sunshine."

Next, peek into my husband's garage (I never pretended it also was mine), once pristine and organized with enough room to park a car and work under its hood. It now is a glorified baby storage shed, holding two strollers, a wagon, a child's bike seat, a kiddie pool and several large toys our son has outgrown. It hasn't seen a vehicle inside its walls for months.

So you'll have to backtrack to the driveway to look at his car. It's a 2001 Chevy Blazer -- a mild, child-friendly sport utility vehicle with airbags and A/C and a carseat base securely strapped to the backseat. It's sitting right where his beloved 1983 Scottsdale stepside pickup used to be. She was a rare midnight blue beauty with a small-block 305 engine with a full Edelbrock manifold and carb setup. She roared like thunder. She also had no seat belt on the passenger side, no heat or A/C, and no place for a carseat. So she had to go.

You also can take a look at his tackle box (bone dry), his bicycle (tires perpetually flat), and his skateboard (in the attic).

Sensing a trend here?

I'd like to tell you the point is that he doesn't mind that his old life is largely gathering dust. I'd like to say he's a new man who has cast aside all former pastimes in favor of building blocks with his son, 24-7.

But I would be lying.

The fact is, he misses his "stuff" a great deal. It's just that when he spends time with any of it, he misses his son even more.

I admit I was a little curious -- all right, concerned -- about what parenthood would do to all of my husband's hobbies and interests. Sports, music, cars, these things are important to him. He's the type who likes to be outside, who stays busy, who always has the next big purchase in mind for whatever pastime he's currently focused on.

In a nutshell, he's a guy.

And I knew that fatherhood would ask a lot of him. I knew it would suck up his free time, take away his ability to be guiltlessly self-indulgent, and squeeze out -- at least temporarily -- some of the hobbies and rituals he thought made him who he was.

I couldn't help but wonder, when those identifying markers fall by the wayside, who will he become?

A year later, I have my answer: He has become Daddy. Or, rather, "Dadadadadadadadadah!"

Like magic, fatherhood gave him a whole new set of goals, pastimes and life-defining moments that get the heart beating faster, and with more purpose, than a 305 engine with a full Edelbrock manifold and carb setup ever could.

The evidence of this is everywhere at our house. Beside that stack of drums in the corner are two old drumsticks sawed down to fit a toddler's hands, so that our boy can sit on Daddy's lap and bang away. Beside that neglected tackle box is a special child's fishing reel bought with much nostalgia off eBay; it's the very same model my husband's own father gave to him as a boy.

And that stuff in the garage? It was all put together excitedly (directions invariably thrown aside, then quietly consulted an hour later) by the same first-time dad who once mourned the loss of his music room, pickup truck and regular fishing outings.

This year I've learned that the best kind of father sets aside some of the dreams he had as a man to make room for all the dreams he holds as a dad. He doesn't lose who he is, or live vicariously through his child, but he does hope and pray that his kid outlives him -- in every sense of the word.

I know the day will come when our son is old enough to have friends and hobbies of his own, when there will be more time for my husband to use that fishing rod more often, and perhaps buy (back) the truck of his dreams.

For now, though, we'll at least give him today to putter around in the past, doing whatever it is he wishes he could do more regularly. My guess is he'll go fishing, then come home and tell me how he can't wait until our boy is old enough to go with him.

My wish for all dads today is that they spend some uninterrupted time doing what they loved before they had kids. Dig out that tackle box, take the old bike for a spin, tinker with your tools in the garage.

Then take note of the moment you feel it -- that pang in your gut of missing someone special, with the image of your little one's smile flashing in your mind -- and thank your lucky stars you're a dad.


Kim said...

Robyn-- this is beautifully written. A really terrific piece.

D said...

I second Kim. This is a great tribute to your husband and any guy would be honored (and his longing for his stuff assuaged even more.)

If you're remotely interested in Father's Day from a Dad's point of view, I linked to my first person essay for my old newspaper on my blog. That's the great thing about the dire state of newspapers for people like me, they'll publish anything. :)

Carol said...

Robyn, I love it. Your writing always brightens my day. I especially love the line about quietly consulting the directions an hour later. ;)

Tara said...

Robyn - You are so freaking talented. I loved this piece so much that I paused the TV and made Joe listen to the whole thing as I read it to him. It's a beautiful essay.