The thing about being a dad is that you have no idea in the moment whether or not you are doing the right thing for your kids. Even worse, you may never know if you did the right thing(s). At some point, you come to the painful and inevitable realization that your legacy as a father is in the hands of an as yet to be hired therapist who has never met you and probably never will. This realization may be temporarily softened by the sweet or humorous sentiments dictated by your spouse to the children the morning of the Big Day and neatly printed on a few homemade greeting cards, but the fact remains. As a group, we men are completely lost in the role of father and at the mercy of the psychiatric profession. God help us all.
Here’s an example of the kind of dilemma dads like me sometimes face:
My oldest daughter dances. This makes me happy. It teaches her discipline, it is good exercise, it surrounds her with great role models, and she is learning teamwork. I stroke those checks for dance practice every month as an investment in her future well-being. Being part of this dance troupe is good. I support it and the lessons it teaches her.
There is one additional lesson that I would like her to learn through the dance classes. It is the lesson of cost. Dance classes are not free. In fact, they can be inordinately expensive and at times, I think unreasonable. There are rehearsal fees, special instructor fees, tap shoes, ballet shoes, and tights, tights, tights. Recital fees, costume bills, fees for the DVD copies of performance. Once all this is paid, we can pay admission to see the actual performance. For me, it can be the Dance of Debt, and the expense drip, drip, drip is exhausting.
Now, how do I impart the message that dance costs money and requires real sacrifice without imparting an equally powerful message that dance should make my daughter feel guilty about practicing her craft? I provide the occasional gentle reminder of the monthly cost, usually on those days when she takes the privilege for granted, or confuses her teenage rights with unlimited freedom without responsibility. OK, sometimes in order to provide absolute clarity to my message of fiscal accountability, I raise my voice and I could have once in a while mentioned that the dance privilege could just as easily be taken away from her. It’s all part of learning, right?
So I stew about the money and I stew about her inability to pretend that she appreciates the privilege of dancing on my dime. When it comes to dance classes, I need more than an annual card from Hallmark. I want her to feel what I feel when I am told that the $100 pair of dance shoes she already has aren’t the right shade of brown so she’ll need another $100 pair for her 45 second appearance in the recital tomorrow, or else she will need to quit dance forever and start those therapy sessions a few years earlier than expected. Is that wrong?
On Saturday, all this angst disappeared for an hour and fifteen minutes of music, lights and dance. I watched her annual recital and it was one of those special parent moments when all the money, all the drop off and pick up trips, all the arguments about ‘studying comes first’ melted away in that dark performance hall. The money part hadn’t completely melted away however. On the way out of the recital, I remarked to one of the parents about the cost per minute on stage for a particular costume, and he replied, “She’s happy, though isn’t she?”
Yea, but I didn’t think that was the goal. I thought the goal was to teach her all those important life lessons through her dance experience, and if happiness was a by-product, all the better. I guess this is where I must be confused as a dad. So I turned to the church for answers…well, not really, but the sermon on Sunday seemed to be speaking to me.
The sermon told the story of a group of school children learning about how things grow. Each child had a little Styrofoam cup and they filled it with fertile soil and a few flower seeds. They supplied some daily sun and some water and waited. Eventually, the teacher told the children, their flowers would bloom.
One child couldn’t wait. He was too impatient. His seed didn’t bloom fast enough, so he dug up that seed to look at it. No blooms. So he decided that more water must be the answer. It wasn’t. He drowned that little seed and his flower never bloomed. His seed needed some warmth, some water, and a lot of patience to grow. He supplied some warmth, a lot of water, and no patience. Bad combination as it turned out, although his intentions were noble.
The urge to watch and manage the growth of your child constantly and overwater occasionally is strong. I think the hardest part of being a dad is knowing how and when to get out of the way, and when to let them just dance and grow. A little warmth, a little water and a sh*tload of patience. The sermon left out the “sh*tload” part; I added that myself.
The thing about being a father, as Maury Povich has proven with DNA evidence on many occasions, is that anyone can do it. Being a dad is a little trickier. Only my daughter’s therapist will know if I found the right balance of ingredients, and that doctor will be happy to tell my daughter the answer to that question - for $150 per hour. That is one bill I am NOT paying.
I’ll fund dance another year and smile, but she can buy the costumes. Hopefully that will make us both happy, although that was not the goal.