Earlier today–5 a.m., to be exact–I found myself sitting at our kitchen table, both hands curled around a lukewarm mug of coffee. My sons, Shawn, Jake and Seth had just left with their dad for a day of deep-sea fishing. For some crazy reason, I felt the need to get up early and see them off.
My quartet of fellas–donning jackets, gloves and baseball hats and carrying a tackle box full of fishhooks—looked somewhere between sleepy and joyful as they walked out the front door. An ocean adventure on the horizon. A day on the high seas is not my idea of a great time. The closest I’m willing to get to a body of water is a spa pedicure, like the one I indulged in this afternoon. Thankfully, none of my hobbies involve waking up before the sun rises, taking seasick pills or inhaling the scent of fresh mackerel.
The same isn’t true for men or at least my four. They have no aversion to stinky, gory or dangerous. Securing a slimy worm on a hook is no big deal. My husband Nick can live blissfully with bits of dirt captured under his fingernails, and never worries about breaking one of them during a basketball game of HORSE. He searches for TV shows about shark attacks, dirty jobs and battles between Sparta and Athens. Threadbare t-shirts, holey socks, jeans that look like they were just shot out of a wrinkle gun — all part of the male bravado.
Dads like my husband are heralded for teaching kids useful stuff like how to hit a wiffleball off a tee, draw to an inside straight or burp Yankee Doodle. Athletic supporters, nine irons and cleats aren’t a mystery. Nick has taught our trio how to tie a Windsor knot, use an electric shaver and repair a leaky spigot. Clutching a pipe wrench, this handydad tutored his sons on the merits of “righty-tighty; lefty-loosey.”
I’m glad to be the contrast to Nick’s daddyhood. This mom has introduced her kids to black-and-white TV sitcoms, Motown and chocolate chip cookie dough. As they grew, I imparted a mixture of practical (check for TP before you sit down), emotional (laugh some everyday) and spiritual (what goes around, comes around) wisdom. Because of me, they can sew on a button, shop for the best price on a box of cereal and avoid burning their grilled-cheese sandwiches.
I can whip up a scrumptious batch of cranberry scones. Not to say that Nick can’t, but why duplicate our efforts. He’s the one who fills the propane tank and mixes marinade for grilled tri-tip. Our practical divide-and-conquer strategy plays to our strengths. Nick would rather push a mower around the lawn, check the tire pressure or demonstrate the proper technique for hitting the 7 ball into the side pocket. I’m OK being the guru of gift-wrap, farmers’ markets and white sales. Someone’s gotta put that worm onto a fishhook and it’s not going to be me.
To be successful at this parenting game, a wise couple merges their best qualities. If mom is the heart of the home, then dad is its backbone. Both roles are essential and operate best when working together. Mom may have the softer shoulder to cry on, but Dad’s sturdier hugs are just as comforting.
Now–toenails freshly painted–I’m back at home. The house is quiet, but the fishing poles and vests tossed in the corner of the family room tell me my guys are back. I sneak through the house and find four anglers asleep on sofas and beds. A wrapped package in the refrigerator contains the results of their adventure. We will have fish to barbecue tonight.
During dinner they’ll debate whose catch was the biggest, laugh about reeling in a ball of seaweed and lament the yellowtail that wriggled free. I’ll laugh along, grateful that–unlike a certain fish–the special moments my sons’ caught with their dad didn’t get away.