Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When I blow it as a dad

During the summer months when school is out I get my 3 kids for the first two weeks of each month. So in addition to my step-kids I have 5 kids that I stay at home with during the day. My kids just returned to their mother's on this last Sunday for June's visitation. Given their ages, having all 5 of them is nothing short of chaos. Three hormonal tweens with attitudes, (one is oppositional defiant), a sensitive 7 year old and 5 year old who is definitely her own person with as many one liners as a blockbuster comedy.

Having all 5 of them together typically means my time is pretty much stretched for whatever activity or task that needs to be done. More kids means more laundry, more dishes, more one on one times, more together time and less personal time. I feel like Snow White caring for my own set of seven dwarves.

Many times I find myself disappointing my kids. I blow it. I don't do it on purpose. But I find myself uttering the words, "No, not right now." It doesn't matter whether it's, "Dad, will play you chess with me?....wanna go swimming?...will you watch a movie with me?...wanna play cards? you wanna ride bikes?" And I have full intentions of doing whatever they ask at a later time that day.

I get too busy. Too focused on too many things. Those 6 dishes on the counter REALLY need to be washed. The entertainment center REALLY needs to be dusted. I REALLY have to check my email for the hundredth time today. I REALLY need to work any one of the numerous projects I tend to put on myself.

"No, not right now." Followed by feeling guilty. Followed by the words, "I love you" later that night as I say, "goodnight." Those two phrases don't even go together. Like an oxymoron.

"No, not right now." I wonder how those words would fly with my boss. "Hey I need you to get to do this for me.?" "No, not right now." Or with my wife. "Hey babe, let's spend the day together and get away from our busy lives." "No, not right now." Or even taking care of my own health as the Parkinson's symptoms progresses and ignore them telling my own body, "No, not right now." Words I would never mumble in those context, yet in spite of the consequences I find those words coming out of my mouth to my kids.

I've wrote about how actions speak louder than words before. Every day, as a dad, we send  an un-countable number of messages. Messages to wives, our children, our neighbors, co-workers, and bosses, friends, and so on. Whether we realize it or not these messages, both verbal and non-verbal, provide expressions about our priorities and our greatest concerns.

My kids are my life. I have fought "tooth and nail" for them in court battles. Both for my biological and step kids. I would fight to the death for them. I've always been one to blow off words and superficial gifts. Anyone can speak words in context. Things that just sound right for that moment. Bed time calls for "I love you's." Anyone can buy a gift. Holiday's call for advertised gifts that we all expect to get.

I'm realizing that it's possible to be a stay-at-home dad without being an involved active dad. But in my defense I do deal with the exhaustion of Parkinson's while trying to handle those three tweens and two young ones. Those tweens are just gonna have to help more. It is hard to do in addition with my external responsibilities.

Lately, my priorities and the messages I send have slapped me in the face after this last summer visitation. One of the heaviest weights I carry is knowing my Parkinson's will progress. Knowing how I currently feel with its exhaustion and the difficulties it brings trying to keep up with them, it will only be all the more easier said than done in the future.

More importantly, setting and communicating my priorities will make or break the relationships with my children. As dads, we must make the most of every opportunity to communicate to each of our children how much we love them and what they mean to us. If I expect actions, how much more then should I give actions? When we tell our children "I love you" but our actions communicate otherwise, we confuse our children, damage our credibility with them, and ultimately, over time and repetition, lose their heart.

Priorities show what is important to us fathers. If we state that our family is important but never spend time with them, are they really number 1? If we invest more time and money in hobbies than our family, are they number 1? Action and words do apply towards our children. I think that's an area many fathers become naive about.

My priorities teach my children about me. What do you want your children to know about you? You would be surprised to know how much your children actually know about you; what makes you happy, what makes you angry. They know what is important to you. The saddest thing I hear is my step-son speak of his own father. He knows his own father's priorities and they are not his children. Not that I am better. His words make me question my own priorities.

At the end of the day, many times, I find myself realizing I never did, "this" or "that," that either of my kids asked me to do. One of my, "No, not right now" moments. Priorities teach our children where they stand in our world.

I realize my priorities determine my family's trajectory. I'm old fashion, but not a sexist. I do believe the husband/father is the head of the home. (No not dictator or more important than the wife, etc) Even though I hate clich├ęs I'm gonna suck it up and use one here,  "A small rudder steers a large ship."

For example, my priorities with my finances has the ability to redirect my children a wealth of knowledge in a positive direction. If I waste it, they will not learn to value it. No matter what I tell them about money, they will mimic me.

Something simple like attending a class function or field trip will change their perception of the importance of education in their life. Priorities can change the future path of your family in small but significant ways.

I tend to have a mental daily "to do list." One that I typically never complete by the end of the day. To my surprise I realize it's possible being too busy as a stay-at-home dad. But only because I make myself too busy. I realize it's possible being detached while caring for.

I don't need to remove the phrase, "No, not now," from my vocabulary. I just need to redirect it. The laundry can wait. My children's need for my company and attention won't. So can the writing. It's not on a deadline. The time that my children will remain children is on a deadline. When that time is up it's gone. So any other things can be put off.

Like I said, at the end of many days I realize I never went back and did things the kids had asked me to do. When all is said done, when the each child has moved out and moved on, I don't want to look back and realize even though they were able to learn my real priorities, I had failed to learn their priorities. 

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A Recycled-Dad with Bipolar & Parkinson's, reflections on fathering and family life and other stuff thrown in'll love my Soap Box Rants

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Why I call myself a Recycled Dad

I call myself a Recycled Dad because of the struggles with remarriage and being a step-parent and weekend dad. This is also about my life living with bipolar and how it affects me personally, my family and my job. It also reflects on the grace God has poured out on me throughout recovery from alcohol and an eating disorder. Recycled Dad is about my reflections on the wisdom God teaches daily on fatherhood and being a better husband in spite of being bipolar.

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