Fathering, Continued

The little things matter, more than you’d think. That’s my lesson from last night. I’m putting my 5-year-old son to bed when he suddenly notices that the blanket was missing for the new stuffed puppy he got Saturday at a friend’s puppy birthday party. This is the drill, of course, whenever I’m putting one of the kids to bed before they want to go to bed:  “Oh, wait, I forgot ….” And then when that’s taken care of, “Oh, but …” And so on. So last night it was a puppy blanket I had never heard of. Which is kinda how it works. The more the kid wants to stay up, the more obscure the reason they cannot get in bed right now.

At some point, I have to put my foot down. And there is the trick: putting the foot down in the right place. I’ve never heard of this puppy blanket so I decide to put it down then and there. The puppy is there along the wall side of the bunk bed where all of his other stuffed Curious Georges and Mumble and Chinese New Year rabbit are – surely he’ll be OK without a blanket …

Wrong answer, apparently. My son erupts into loud sobs. When I try to reason with him a little the sobs turn to howls. If my goal was to get him into bed soon, I’ve made the wrong call. He’s not the one who does this night after night, so I decide to give in. We will investigate and problem solve (since I am a guy and that is what I do well).  Turns out the “blanket” was an old dish rag that his sister thought should go out with the dirty laundry earlier in the day when I made them clean up. It’s nothing special that he needs, but in making that very rational statement I am probably illustrating why guys get no credit for sensitivity to others. It turns out to be special, in a way I am not understanding. He returns from the basement with an old but clean wash cloth (“No, it’s a blanket,” he corrects me) and he and the puppy are good to go. He smiles, and is off to sleep in minutes.

All of this will be forgotten today. We’re so used to assessing what we do with our kids, what we may be doing wrong. Are our kids going to turn out as losers or spoiled brats because of whatever I did today? I’m always looking back over the difficult moments, thinking about what I might have done better. I wonder if parents agonized over this stuff a hundred years ago as we do. They probably had different things to make them crazy.

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