The last song had been played. The last story had been read. The sheets were turned back, the favorite purse at hand. Bedtime, right?
“Missy, we talked about this. It’s getting late.”
“Look, it’s softball season. Athletes need their rest, right?”
“Sweetie, you at least need to stay in the bedroom, OK?”
I know some of you right now are nodding at this, like members of a club who have just heard the secret knock. Yes, that periodic ritual of parenthood and guardianship, the Bedtime Battle, was well under way. Like many wars, the tactics had become familiar and the ground well-studied, even if the motive for the conflict had been long forgotten.
“Look, we can leave part of the door open, all right? Is it ok if I close half of it tonight?”
Since Missy’s disability makes it hard for her to communicate, it can take a while to pick through the possible causes when this happens. Sometimes it might be a nightmare. Sometimes it’s just a little soreness from the day’s activity, with some ibuprofen working wonders. Sometimes, all you can do is chalk it up to a disturbance in the Force and do the best you can.
This time, a late-night grocery trip might have been to blame – a time when Missy had woken up while I was still out. It would explain the worry when I started to get out of sight of her door, anyway.
You know, sleeping on a hallway floor can get kind of comfortable after a while?
There are a lot of “dad duties” that never make it on the official list.
We all know the stereotypes, right? Good at fixing things. Handy at yard work. Grill master. Voice of discipline when necessary. Ready and enable to initiate others into the mysteries of professional sports fandom.
It’s been shown in sitcoms, plastered on Father’s Day cards, wedged into the back of our minds. And, yeah, some folks do fit the classic resume. (As a kid, I believed – with some justice – that my Dad could fix anything.)
But many of us don’t. And the funny thing is, those aren’t even the core competencies.
It’s not about being manly. It’s about being there.
It’s the shared struggle over math homework at 10 p.m. (Thanks, Dad.)
It’s the off-key middle school choir concerts attended, or the grade-school baseball games where bat and ball have only a passing acquaintance with each other.
It’s the times when you sit on the phone for two minutes waiting for the other caller to say “Hello?”
It’s time together wherever it has to be found – a story, a movie, a puzzle, a game. It’s taking temperatures, and holding hands. And yeah, sometimes it’s outright arguments and struggles to understand.
But if you’re there, however you can be … if you care, and can share it … if you’re awake to the needs and responsibilities involved … then you’re doing it right, even if you can’t tell a monkey wrench from Curious George.
Thing is, these aren’t just dad duties. They’re mom duties, or cousin duties, or guardian duties, or whoever has the ability to step into that space and be the person that’s needed. Whoever has found themselves in that wonderful and terrifying role of “parent,” even if they don’t share a single strand of DNA.
If you’re there – if you care – if you’re building and not breaking, helping and not harming – then you’re doing it right. And bless you for it.
Take a breath. Rest easy.
And if you’re resting on the hall carpet, the right pillow makes a world of difference.