Worst parent of the day award goes to…

I don’t go to the gym as often as I’d like. Evenings are tough, I get tired. Boy 1 and Boy 2 keep my wife and I fully occupied till about 8 or 9 at night, between swimming lessons, homework, and lately, blackjack (they are getting an early start on probability). It’s an early night tonight, catching up on sleep they missed out from the hyperactivity of the Halloween candyfest.

I managed to go to the gym today. Walk in, go upstairs, change, walk back down. The usual crowd: older people (I’m in that demographic) and predominantly women by the treadmills and elliptical machines, the younger crowd (and mostly men) by the weights. A guy my age stands by the exercise mats with his son, a child no more than 9 years old. Tells him to go play on the mats as he walks away to do his workout.

You could tell by the look on the kid’s face that he didn’t know what to do. He stared at the empty corner of the gym for a few seconds. Went back to his father, asked him if he could sit on the chairs on the other end, walked over there and sat. He had a handheld gaming device, maybe a Nintendo DS. By the time I left the gym over an hour later, the boy was still sitting there, his father working his biceps.

Let me put it as simply as I can: WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT FATHER? At a very basic level, it’s not even as though he were really obese and in dire need of exercise. But it’s fundamentally wrong, go ahead choose another word – selfish, self-centered, egotistical, inconsiderate, uncaring, shameful – to be so full of yourself and so oblivious to your own child’s needs that your needs have to come before his. Congratulations, mister, you get my Worst parent of the day award. I hope I don’t have to hand it over to you again. He should brush up on Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” I hardly think that sitting in a gym full of adults working out while his father ignores him was in that boy’s best interests.

My Father’s Memory

Sunday is Father’s Day in Canada, a celebration I shunned growing up as much as I dreaded Valentine’s Day until I finally had a girlfriend. Both days were lousy reminders that I didn’t have what others were celebrating. However, while Valentine’s Day was just another lousy day (mostly in my late teens and early twenties), Father’s Day was a reminder, every year, of a life I could have shared with my father.

One sunny morning in 1973, my brother and I were eating breakfast in the kitchen and my mother called to my father, who was in bed, asking if he wanted anything to eat. The rest is a blur: my mother going to the bedroom, hearing her scream, and my brother and I running to see. The last image of my father was of him being carried out to the ambulance. He suffered a heart attack.

As a three year-old, I did not fully comprehend what took place. Shortly after his death, I would hear my mother talk on the phone to her friends about what happened. As she would be talking, I would suggest to her to go buy a new daddy from the store, thinking that a mannequin in a store window would serve as a replacement for my father. I remember her smiling when I said that.

Father’s Day at school meant writing a card for an uncle I saw twice a year, while everyone else wrote a card for their fathers. It just wasn’t the same. As I grew older, my mother would tell me stories of my father that helped me understand who he was. A joker, always wanting to make others laugh; an artist, self-taught and with a passion for painting animals, boats, and winter scenes; a volunteer firefighter for our tiny town of Roxboro; and someone who was quite content with staying close to home and never travelling farther than a 2-hour drive away. And of course, she would tell me the story of when they first met, and how she was the one who tripped him.

It’s too much of a stretch to say I really remember my father; only a handful of memories, more like fleeting images, snapshots of the past. Growing up without a parent, sorrow was inevitable. Anger, once present in my teenage years and directed towards an uncaring god, faded over time. And eventually, acceptance seeped in.

As my own impending fatherhood approached, I greeted it with trepidation, not knowing what to do. My mother had reminded me over the years that she was both a mother and a father to me, but still…it’s not the same. I had no father figure to model. Over the years, my on-the-job training as a father has been filled with joy, and at times challenging, rewarding, frustrating, and overwhelmingly awesome. The hugs my boys assault me with at the end of my workday are akin to the maniacal rush that Dino launches into as he slams Fred Flintstone every night coming home from work. I am fortunate. 

I am fortunate to see what my children have to offer me as a parent, and it’s a joy that is as incomparable as it is immeasurable. Sometimes the simplest of words from them enable me to realize what’s important: a few years ago, as I busied myself cleaning the basement, my youngest son was quietly playing alone in the next room. In a barely audible voice, he muttered, “Daddy, can you play with me?” 

So my basement is sometimes messy, my lawn is not always meticulously cut, my car hasn’t been washed since last year, and the last time the windows were washed…well, I can’t remember. But my children have taught me to play, because they know what’s fun, and I’ve discovered a second childhood through them. Plenty of people out there will tell you how to be a good parent, and make sure that, in all actions as a parent (to paraphrase the Convention on the Rights of the Child), the best interests of the child have to be of primary consideration. Spending time together with my children is, to me, doing just that. I don’t remember ever playing with my father, but I’m trying to make up for lost time now.