I'm racing the clock to get this post up while it still IS Fathers' Day--
My oldest daughter (code name Xaviera) put on a Caitlin Cary CD in the car the other morning. I like C.C., though I suppose she's corny. She has this wise, maternal singing persona, and in some songs she's actually giving advice to a lovelorn friend. "What Will You Do" has her commiserating with the co-dependent wife or girlfriend of a self-destructive tortured artist type of man. Of course you love him, but he's a trainwreck and you need to protect yourself, is the gist of the song. Cary is not exactly the voice of Grrl Power, but she's not a doormat, either, and in the end she seems to land at an eyes-open, road-tested, jaded-but-hopeful appreciation of men. Can't live with him, can't live without him. That seems true and satisfying to me.
There's a classmate of Xaviera's, call her Charlotte, who carpools with us some mornings. Charlotte is painfully shy--some days we can hardly get a word out of her, and she misses school every now and then with headaches or stomachaches that seem anxiety-related (even her mother thinks so). Her parents are divorced, and her father is not a big part of her life. I'm not always sure whether being with our family adds to her anxiety or not. We're pretty boisterous, especially on the days when I drive the kids. I'm less organized, so there is more yelling "hurry up" and general display of bad temper. My car is smaller so the kids are more cramped. I have a CD player so there's likely to be loud rock music. I might steer with my knees for a moment while I drink coffee and fumble for a CD.
One day my middle girl Yolanda rolled down the car window and stuck her arm out while we were riding. Charlotte was alarmed ("Never stick your arm out like that!") and I said, a little sheepishly, "That's right, honey, not so far out," but the truth is I let stuff like that slide, much more than my wife does. So Charlotte doesn't bother to show alarm any more.
A kid needs a Dad to bend Mom's rules and let them stick an arm out the window occasionally.
(Before anyone makes any outraged comments or e-mails, I would like to hear you marshall some evidence, even anecdotal, of anybody losing an arm due to hanging it out the car window.)
It's odd that I choose Charlotte as the case that argues the value of a father, a masculine influence in a child's life--there's another boy we know, younger kid, who is the type that craves male attention and who, every time he sees me, attaches himself to me like a barnacle. Charlotte may very well not even like me. Yet I'm just cocky and reckless enough to think I'm the kind of influence Charlotte needs. Put it this way: If my influence doesn't kill her, it will make her stronger.
This is my reflection on fatherhood this year. My wife and I had a big fight over Christmas because I allowed one of the children to do something unsafe. I won't specify what it was--no harm was done, but I did make a big error in judgment. Hopefully I learned a lesson, but that continues to be the dynamic in our family: She will err on the side of overprotectiveness, I will err on the side of recklessness.
Yet kids' lives need a dose of physicality and recklessness and loudness and devil-may-care attitude.
Here's to you, Dads. You're the guy who lets them stick their arm out the car window. You're the guy who let them climb onto the porch roof. You're the guy who says with a chuckle that french fries can technically be considered a vegetable.
You're the guy. Don't go changin'. Listen to your wife, of course, but don't go changin'.