I don’t know the answer to this one but I’m trying to figure it out only because I have people frequently tell me that I am one when they find out that I stay at home with my kids. “What a great dad,” they say, if only it were that easy. Just sitting around with them in no way makes me great. I could easily just be tweeting or simply begrudging every minute of it. Not to say I don’t do those things at times, I do.
What makes someone a great dad, though? I would never say I’m great, I think I’m alright at it, even good at times, and I confidently say that not out of any egotism but simply because I put a lot of effort and thought into it. Through all of that, I think I know what it takes to be great, recognizing that I frequently fall short. But I digress…
Being great means when you’re downstairs washing and stacking dishes from the dinner you just made and you’ve spent all day with your kids and it’s Sunday so that means you’re going to spend the next five days after this one with your kids, and the oldest one who stayed up too late the night before and so has been cranky all day and just a couple of hours earlier told you that you are “freakishly annoying” and meanwhile the younger of the two who is only 17mo is upstairs chanting “poop on daddy, poop on daddy” in what may be his first ever complete sentence, when all you really want to do is turn off the tap, quietly slip the car keys off the key ring and slide outside and into the car and just head down the road, and maybe not come back at least for a week, but instead you dry your hands off, and trudge up the steps to the baby who wants to defecate on you and the naked 4yo waiting to take a shower with you who is frantically running around screaming, and you take that shower, maybe you yell at that kid a little you’re in there which is not so great, but then you get out, get dressed and then go sit down with the 17mo and admire the wooden train track he is so proud of and then when he wants the Spider-man toy you were trying to play with you hand it over and then when the 4yo comes over and wants the other Spider-man and the Wolverine action figures you were going to make do with you let go of those, too, and turn your attention back to the 17mo and the train tracks, and then when Mama says it’s time for bed you plead for more playtime, even though it really is bedtime, and then you help the 4yo brush his teeth and then give both boys multiple kisses before heading downstairs to collapse on the couch in front of the football game which thankfully is going into overtime. Well, maybe that’s what it takes to be great, as in epic, as in you gave all you had, or at the least it should qualify as being pretty good, if just for that section of the day.
“Three is a conforming age. Three-and-a-half is just the opposite. Refusing to obey is perhaps the key aspect of this turbulent, troubled period in the life of the young child. It sometimes seems to his mother that his main concern is to strengthen his will, and he strengthens this will by going against whatever is demanded of him by that still most important person in his life, his mother.”
This quote is found on page 5 of Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy, published in 1976 and written by two old biddies named Frances L. Ilg and Louise Bates Ames. Recommended to me by a friend who is an educator, I have only made it this far and that may be as far as I will, but when I read this paragraph I had to put it down. My first reaction was reassurance that my three-and-a-half year old is just following a recognized pattern. It’s good to know that B is not especially malevolent.
Secondly, if his mother is the most important figure in his life, then he’s in a little trouble because he spends a big chunk of his days with me, his father. Thirdly, this book is dated and obviously composed by people who did not and could not anticipate a wave of fathers who would assume the mother’s place in the home. As a result, have us stay-at-home dads replaced the mother as the seminal figure in the toddler’s life? I don’t think so. Although I’m an authority figure I’m a playmate just as much. Mama is there for emotional support and as a result receives more of his anger and love (although I still get plenty of both, particularly the former).
So is my three-and-a-half year old my enemy? It can feel that way when B walks over and karate chops me in the groin or yells at me for accidentally knocking over one of his action figures, as he did yesterday. Yet, he’s also my friend, like when he pretended to help me clean out the gutters or when we colored Wolverine and Hawkeye in one of his coloring books (although we argued over what crayons to use). Perhaps it would be more accurate to call him my frenemy.