Fathers

I remember creamed egg on toast in a sun soaked kitchen, the smell of coffee bubbling in the percolator, my grandmother’s hands with her clean, stone colored fingernails, an apron tied round her waist, her hair in a soft orange halo of curls around her head. Brittle glass in the windows and sticky, humid beach air, the pungent smell of the sea, the horizon dappled with sailboats. We’d run out the door as soon as we were full into the soft dewy grass, down the cement staircase and straight to the beach. Climbing on seaweed covered rocks, we’d search for mussels, cracking them open and tying a string around their slimy orange bodies to fish for crabs with Dad. We’d fill buckets full of crabs, watching them climb over one another, poking at them with sticks to see how strong their pinches were. The sun would travel through the sky while we fished for crabs with my dad until it was radiant, above us, beating down on our shoulders, dried sand stuck to the round curves of our heels. 

While my grandfather napped in his lazy boy, the fabric behind his head worn down from years of use, we would roam the beach in search of sea glass, little gems half buried in the sand. Each piece we found was worth celebrating; Dad would inspect it through his round glasses, smile, and tuck it into his pocket for safekeeping. Cupping large shells around our ears, we would listen for the ocean, my brother, my sister, and I. Running up and down the beach like puppies, digging for sand crabs, making drip castles. 

Dad, with a pocket full of change that he would jingle with his hands, would take us on adventures.  We would walk up and down the train tracks stacking coins on the rails, waiting for the train to come. After the train passed we would scramble to find the flattened coins, some of them still on the tracks, some thrown into the rocks below. We kept jars full of flattened coins at home, taking them out to inspect them, compare them, look at the years. 

Four years into my parenting career, I still have the overwhelming urge to micromanage my husband’s approach. Don’t push them so high on the swings, don’t wrestle with them like that, don’t throw them so high in the air, make sure you hold their hands in the parking lot, don’t say it that way, say it this way.   My husband parents differently than I do. My dad parented differently than my mom did. All the times my mom probably wanted to gasp with horror or correct him or cover her face with her hands as we walked too close to the edge, stood too close to the tracks, stayed up too late, played too rough, ate too much, those are the memories I hold close, think of fondly. Those are the memories that define my father for me, that color my childhood. Ruby red raspberries, fresh off the bush and warm from the sun, floating in milk and molasses, staying up past our bedtime to watch Star Trek reruns, my Dad tirelessly singing us the same bedtime songs night after night for years, never complaining, never telling us he was too tired, always giving in to our cries for “just one last time!” 

Motherhood is a job that I take seriously. I read books and blogs and articles, learn about child psychology, analyze everything that my children do. I often fail miserably, lose my cool, treat them like they are nuisances, daydream about an alternate life that doesn’t include them. Watching someone struggle alongside me to parent these small people is challenging. It takes my full awareness to stand back and let the process happen – let my husband make mistakes, let my husband learn the lessons himself. However, the more I stand back and watch, let go of my tight grasp of who I think my husband is and see him for who truly he is, the more beauty I see. Beauty in the mistakes, in those moments when he apologizes to our children, and beauty in the way that their relationships are blooming. The more I let my husband parent, the better a parent he becomes. The more I let my husband parent, the better a parent I become – the better a spouse, a friend, a daughter, a sister I become. 

The memories my sons have with their father will be rich, warm, painful, fun, loving – just like the memories that I have with my father. They will think back fondly about riding down dirt roads in his little red car, listening to Van Halen - at a volume I probably think is too loud - with the windows down, or playing on the playground with him alone, without me hovering over them. They’ll remember him grabbing them by the arms and spinning them around in a field full of yellow dandelions. They’ll remember him stooping to his knees, looking into their blue eyes, and asking for forgiveness. Those are the memories that are forming, those are the moments that I don’t want to stand in the way of. 

Elissa Koop, The Village Journalist