Taking One on the Chin: Because Dads Can’t Always Protect

  by Erik Wolgemuth

I tucked my daughter in recently and caught sight of a pink whale named Wilma barely visible underneath the covers. Though my daughter loves this little whale, Wilma and I have a mixed relationship. I’m grateful for that stuffed aquatic mammal, but she serves as a hard reminder to me of a difficult aspect of being a father.

A standard weekday afternoon not too long ago was interrupted when a chin met a dresser drawer corner. This collision set in motion our adoption of Wilma. She entered into our stuffed animal family at a nearby urgent care facility with the hope that she might provide a bit of comfort and security at the coming prospect of stitches. At urgent care, Wilma and I linked arms – metaphorically speaking – in that hope and we soon returned home with a brave little girl and her “baseball chin”.

When I see Wilma now, however, I can’t help thinking about how deeply I love my kids. How I’d take a gash to my chin instead of theirs in a heartbeat. How I’d rather be the one to grit my teeth with tears in my eyes as stitches weave their way through a wound. And how I’d wear that bulky bandage on my chin instead of watching it walk out the door to school taped on a little face. Now I know that stitches are to be expected in parenthood and, though that chin bears a scar, the health and beauty of that little life are untouched. For that I’m immeasurably grateful.

But Wilma serves as a reminder to me that for as much as I know that I’d do anything to protect my kids or take their place in challenging and difficult moments, I can’t. That’s a hard reality of fatherhood. Wilma also reminds me that sometimes those bumps, cuts, and bruises that come from life actually build and strengthen and fortify. And so some days I hope I can just be as effective as Wilma…an inanimate, miniature pink whale with a goofy grin. In those hard and painful moments, I can stay close, I can love, I can comfort, I can be present.

I recognize that in a far too quickly approaching day, proximity will change. I won’t be down the hall or back from work shortly. And so, though I don’t know what’s ahead for my kids – tomorrow or in twenty years – I want them to know that, regardless of location, their dad isn’t too far off to comfort, support, and love.

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As we seek to raise culture’s low expectations for fathers, we must be prepared for the challenge of being a dad … and especially for those times when we fail. Through it all, at least one thing remains constant: there are some things you never should text your wife.

The post photo is, of course, Erik’s daughter holding Wilma.