Dads have instincts too
Thanks so much for all the helpful and reassuring input on sleep away camp for kids. Our eleven-year-old survived and thrived, and declared it “awesome.” Contrary to all my fears and expectations, he found plenty to eat, and even showered and changed underwear every day. Maybe next year, they can get him to use some of the soap I send.
After all that, you’d think dropping the teenager off today would be a breeze, but it was strangely much harder. It’s asking a whole lot more of a thirteen-year-old to give up his tunes and his texting for five days, and enter an established social situation as the new kid. He was game enough on the ride there, but entering a cabin full of strange boys set him back a spell.
“I wish I didn’t have to stay here,” he told us as we hugged him goodbye. There was no drama in his voice, but it was wrenching all the same. I felt as if he were a baby again, and I was handing him over to strangers at the church nursery for the first time, with no way to make him understand that it was all okay, and that I’d be back very soon.
He was my first, and everything he felt, I felt with him. It took me a while to learn that mirroring his anxieties with my own wasn’t very reassuring. I’ve also learned to appreciate the ballast that Patrick brings to bear when emotions run high. Like a lot of mothers, I am sometimes frustrated that my children’s father isn’t as immediate with his response and empathy as I am. But over the years, I’ve also come to believe that fathering comes with some biological presets. That Dads have instincts, too.
When those instincts run counter to mine, it’s tempting to see it as a contradiction, and respond as if being challenged. But parenting isn’t Highlander, where THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE. More often than not, Patrick’s fathering instincts complement my mothering ones. Especially in times of crisis or worry, when that aggravatingly sluggish response of his is all that lies between me and freaking the freak out.
So today, when our camper expressed that he was not so happy, I was all empathy and concern, and Patrick was all confidence and empowerment. And I was grateful to him for bringing it, for being the Dad–not in any macho sense of the word, but as my partner in raising these boys. There have been times in our marriage when I have asked myself if I could do it without him. I know that I could.
For their sake and mine, I’m glad I don’t have to.