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.
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.