As a husband, father, or even as a man, there are few things that will make me redline as fast as getting lost. It’s always on mornings when I have big meetings, right during nap time, on date night when I’m paying some outrageous rate for a teenager to text her friends while my kids watch “Finding Nemo” or when Bridge said “go left” and I said, “I think it’s right.” My frustration over getting lost is only surpassed by the fact that most of the time, I am lost because my iPhone’s map and/or Siri give the worst directions in the world. (For the record, I am a total Apple Fan Boy but their navigation ability sucks. You can’t zoom out on the map and Siri never finishes the sentence. “In a quarter mile, turn left at S…” What!?) Getting lost is the worst.
Welcome to fathering in America. Chances are, you either grew up with or without a dad. If you grew up without a dad, there have been mornings when you have looked into the mirror and felt completely lost … with so many questions about being a man that you wish you could just pick up the phone and get a little clarity, but you can’t because there is no map. Or maybe you grew up with a dad who resembled Apple’s navigation system. You feel lost because the map you had was nothing like what you want to look like and you’re scared to death that your kids will grow up with the same emotional scars and pain still plaguing your own life. Welcome to fathering in America.
When I was in middle school, I wasn’t thinking about questions like “what kind of dad do I want to be?” and neither were my friends. All I was concerned about was if Stone Cold Steve Austin was going to be able to beat Shawn Michaels and if roller derby was real. In middle school, I ran with three other kids who when push came to shove, I would lay down in traffic FOR – but realistically, I (stupidly) laid down in traffic WITH them a few times, too (punk teenagers). We did everything together from going to movies, spending the night at each other’s houses, picking the same class schedule and playing the same sports. While we had so many things in common – sports, girls, a lack of money and hygiene – the biggest difference was that their dads were around while mine (my stepdad) was hardly around at all.
Corey’s dad was our football and wrestling coach. He was the dad that rocked the short, thin gym shorts, made us help pour concrete in 100 degree temps in Oklahoma, demanded that we did the dishes after dinner and would unashamedly sport a beer belly at the pool. Corey’s dad, as I recall, actually grounded me when we snuck out and toilet papered the house of someone we didn’t like.
Someone who wasn’t my parent grounded me, and I obeyed.
John’s dad was also our football and wrestling coach. He was over the top in his attempts to keep John from getting a girlfriend by saying the most embarrassing things imaginable. He would often tuck in half of his shirt with no belt and have one sock pulled high with the other down low, all while talking about how cool he was. He was the dad who would awkwardly kiss his wife in public – and on many occasions, would get an evil eye from her after slapping her butt. Now that I think about it, in 8th grade, I’m pretty sure I had more family dinners at their house than mine.
Dennis’ dad was a nerd. I say that very affectionately; his dad was the most successful of all of our dads. Dennis’ dad had a good job with a nice house and was picked last in every pickup game of his life. He would spend his nights driving us to the many sporting practices we had, videotape our events and take team pictures, and always took us to Mazzio’s Pizza on Sundays after church. When the tornado of 1999 ripped through Tulsa, Oklahoma and literally ripped the roof off of Dennis’ house, Dennis remembers that his dad was on top of them all in a bathtub which likely saved their lives.
At one point or another we hated, cussed, made fun of, and wished these dads would just leave us alone – but they wouldn’t. We didn’t realize at the time that they were showing us that a dad should be present. Whether it was coaching a team or driving to practice, they weren’t out chasing their own hobbies or success; rather, their hobbies were us and seeing us succeed.
They were showing us that a dad should love his wife. Yeah, you may never catch me slapping Bridge’s butt in public or slipping her the tongue, but I know that my boys are watching how I treat their mom.
They were showing us that a dad isn’t “cool.” We didn’t need them to like the same music or movies. We didn’t need them to shop where we shopped or say the same things we said. We needed them to show us there is a difference between toilet papering your friend’s house and the house of someone you don’t like. There’s a difference between breaking up with a girl and defaming her. There’s a difference between working hard and expecting a hand out. We needed them to show us there are no differences because of the color of someone’s skin.
My friends’ dads were an imperfectly good road map for my life as a husband and father. A word of advice: when you feel like you’re lost (theoretically or literally), with or without a map, just take a look in the rearview mirror … chances are, you are the map that your kids, and their friends, will be following.
Note: This is the sixth and final post in our series entitled “On Being a Dad.” For more posts from this series, click here.
Joshua Levin is a husband to Bridget and the daddy of three crazy, active and funny boys (Cooper, Lewis and Martin). Though he and Bridget have known each other since high school, they began dating a few years after they graduated and have now been married for six years. Growing up with sisters, Josh has had to learn to embrace the chaos that comes with a house of boys. He enjoys a day at the skate rink or a night watching the Royals with his boys; for time alone, he loves a good book at a local coffee shop. He is a project manager for a commercial electrical company.