It’s Fatherhood Friday over at DadBlogs and it’s been quite a while since I’ve written a post on my experiences as a father. My daughters, Maisy and Hanna, are now 14 and 11 and both in junior high, so there will plenty of material ahead of me as they navigate the teenage and tweenage wasteland. But there is also a new parenting experience in my life. My new girlfriend has a 5-1/2 year old daughter, Lucella, and that means I get to bring some of my seasoned experience to the table and at the same time take off on a whole new adventure.
My girlfriend has been working on a commercial and yesterday was her 11th day in a row without a day off. Like me, her hours aren’t 9 to 5. They are more like 5-9. If she’s lucky. That means a challenging couple of weeks for the mom part of her life as she orchestrates the care of her daughter like the conductor of the L.A. Philharmonic.
Yesterday, I picked Lucella up from school and drove her into Los Angeles to visit her mother on location at a house in Hancock Park. We hung out while mom worked, played, colored, ran around, acted goofy and laughed a lot. We ate lunch with the crew in the backyard of the house next door and feasted on fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Mom and girl where happy and so was I. Lucella and I raced the 2 blocks back to my car and drove back up the coast past the shimmering Pacific Ocean.
We stopped at Starbucks for a coffee for me and a “cold chocolate” for her before I took her back home to grandma. There is a wonderful definition of the word ecstasy that comes to mind: exceedingly content and fulfilled. It was a perfect day.
Later in the evening, my girlfriend called me on the way home from work (and yes it was after 9 o’clock!). By the time she was home, Lucella would be fast asleep. But there was a calm and a joy in her voice tonight that wasn’t there the day before. The short time she had spent with her daughter had filled her up. She was exceedingly content and fulfilled. She laughed and told me that one of the guys on her crew made a comment to her after Lucella and I left. “Was that the babysitter?” asked Howard, not even attempting to hide the sarcasm.
Now, I want to show you a picture. Tell me what you think:
Would you let this guy babysit your kid?
So here’s my question: Do I look like the f*#ing babysitter?
The human ego is fascinating and at the same time, so predictable and so easy to recognize when we know what to look for. One of the not-so-wonderful qualities of our egos is this need to boost ourselves up so that we can feel superior to others. It’s one of the ways that our egos assert themselves in the world, a deep need to be recognized. We do it because, subconsciously, we think we need to in order to survive. The truth is, when I tear someone else down with a sarcastic comment, I am really feeling inferior myself and I need to tear you down to feel better about me.
And this is also exactly what I am referring to when I talk about the difference between the 20th Century man and The 21st Century Man. Men have spent centuries trying to conquer each other and to what end? What’s the real difference between a physical attack and a sarcastic verbal attack? The motive behind both is the same. A recent Newsweek cover story looked into the decline of men in American culture. The ancient behaviors aren’t working any more. We men are in a desperate place and it’s time to reinvent ourselves, time to learn how to express ourselves beyond “How’s your fantasy football team doing?”
This morning I drive over Kanan-Dume Rd. in the dawn light. This is a drive I have made so many times to go surfing but that first view of the ocean as I descend toward Pt. Dume still takes my breath away. I won’t be paddling out this time however. Instead I’ll pick Lucella up from her grandma and take her to school. My girlfriend is long gone, having left in the dark for her 12th and final day of work on this current job. Lucella sips hot chocolate as I help her finish her homework. I read her a story, squeeze toothpaste onto her brush and tie her shoes.
It’s my first time taking her to school and I carry her pink lunch box as she runs ahead of me to show me the way to the playground where all the kids lineup each morning for the Pledge of Allegiance and the school cheer. As the cheer ends and the kids all head off toward their classrooms, I say goodbye to Lucella and tell her I will see her in a few hours. I am taking her out of school early again to visit her mother at work, where today they will be flying superheros in harnesses at a warehouse in Van Nuys.
I walk alongside the kindergarten class, the kids all chattering, excited to be together and starting another fun day. As we approach the classroom, Lucella turns to me and smiles, “Byebye,” she chirps, then skips off with her pink lunchbox in hand. I smile too as I watch her go, confident in my manhood and proud of my fathering skills.
No, Howard, I’m not the babysitter. I’m a real man and this is what real men do. They help raise children. They aren’t afraid to show their emotions. They might still have a fantasy football team, but they are also on a journey, a quest to discover themselves and what it truly means to be a 21st Century Man.