He was making macaroni and cheese for his kids. He was the good dad, out to dazzle his children with his cooking prowess. He was going to introduce them to real mac-and-cheese, not that powdered boxed crapola. They liked that boxed crap, but he was going to teach them the difference. He knew what was best for them, after all. He was their father.
They hated it. They didn't like the crunchy noodles on top. They thought the bread crumbs on top made it look burnt. They wanted the orange stuff that came in the box, not this. This wasn't macaroni and cheese.
First he argued with them. Then, when their mother tried to explain that it was unfamiliar food, that they'd never seen bread crumbs on top of a dish before, he pouted. He got upset.
He stomped away from the dinner table. He shut himself in his bedroom, a petulant teenager, an overemotional dad in all the wrong ways. One of his children actually went up to apologize, attempting to coax him back to the dinner table.
This was the story I read in a national parents magazine. It's their current issue, on the newsstands just in time for Father's Day. It was part of their section for fathers. No, scratch that. This one-page anecdote was the entirety of their section for dads. That's it. One story about a dad who screwed up dinner. One more story about a dad who doesn't understand what his kids want, doesn't react well to his kids' natural reactions, and doesn't realize that his kids are watching everything he does for signs on how to act like a grown-up.
One more story about one more incompetent dad.
I don't understand how a magazine with a name like Parenting (parents are both mothers and fathers, right?) has only a single page dedicated to fathers. And I don't get how, month after month, the fathers who visit their pages are dunderheads. They make mistakes. They put diapers on wrong. They make atrocious choices about their children's clothes, their food, their safety. They are embarrassments to fatherhood.
I hate to brag, people. But let's get some things straight. I'm a father. I'm a damn good dad. I spent nearly a year at home with my son, changing his diapers, warming his bottles, holding him until my shoulders fell asleep during his naps. So I know a few things about being a father.
I've been his dad since the day he was born. Not a stand-in, not a weekend daddy, not an absentee, not a detached parental unit. I am his dad, and I take my work seriously.
Let me present my credentials:
I can always find his ticklish spots, and I know a few secret ones that his mother might not even know.
I can change his diaper with my eyes closed. Seriously.
I can feed him animal crackers, one by one, while driving down the highway. Without taking my eyes off the road.
If there are ten kids at the park running around, and my kid cries, I hear it. I know the frequency of his cries, the shape and size of the vowels, the pattern, the pitch. I will hear my son cry, because he is my son and I am his dad.
I know how my son talks, and I know the words and almost-words and semi-words that come out of his mouth. Sometimes I can interpret things he says that his mother can't.
I know what he eats and what he doesn't. I stopped getting him veggie burgers a long time ago, because as much as I thought they were a perfect food for him, he never liked them. So I stopped, because I realized I was wasting my time. A real dad knows when he's wasting his time on unimportant things. I feed him what he likes, and when I experiment with new foods on him, I always have a cheese stick or a bowl of peas as a backup.
I don't fear time alone with him. I took a job with a four-day work week so that I could spend an entire day with him. These days are the joys of my week.
I know what he likes to wear. I know which hand he uses to pick up a form. I know that he loves slapstick humor, and running squirrels, and music with a good solid beat. I know that he doesn't like to wear socks when he sleeps. I know how to make his cowlicks stay down.
If I close my eyes, right now, I can remember his sleeping face from the first few weeks of his life.
I know what meconium looks like. I know how to cut his fingernails. I know how to make him laugh. I know exactly where the mole is on his chest.
And I love this boy, this child, my son. I love the smell of his hair when it's been warmed by sunlight. I love the sound of his laughter. I love the way he scolds me when I'm doing something he doesn't like ("no, daddy!") I love watching his face while he sleeps. I love the way he wakes me up ( he says "daddy, come!" and grabs one of my fingers to pull me out of bed). I love every inch of his being.
I'm a good dad. I pay attention. I watch out for him. I keep him safe. I feed him, clothe him, change his diapers, read him stories, put him down for naps, kiss his boo-boos, wipe the snot and drool off his face, let him put half-eaten noodles in my mouth.
I've been his dad since he was born.
I'm not the only dad who gets it. There are millions of us. We are competent. We take pride in our skills (or skillz, as it were) in fathering. We are the new fathers, and there are a hell of a lot of us.
Watch for us on Father's Day. We're all around. We're in the parking lots, holding our kids' hands. We're in the parks, running around with our kids, chasing them as they laugh and scream. We're in the restaurants, offering our kid a bite of our breakfast. We're at home, making our own Father's Day breakfasts. We're good dads, and there's more and more of us all the time.
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