I took my lunch break early. The room I currently find myself in is a sharp contrast from the world outside it: Rather than sitting on an uncomfortable chair under harsh, fluorescent lighting, I’m practically sinking into a couch while dimmed lamps cast golden shadows on the walls. I stretch and instinctively yawn when Nate walks in. With his round glasses, inquisitive eyes, plaid shirt, and full beard, he could almost pass for a lumberjack. However, I imagine his thin, wiry frame is not predisposed to swinging an axe for hours at a time. He hands me a cup of black coffee in a nondescript styrofoam cup. Its thin and on the bland side, but I’m tired, so it will do. We start by engaging in pleasantries and small talk. This is my second time seeing him and we’re still in that “feeling out” period. Yet, I feel a sense of familiarity talking to him, as if I had known him a lot longer than two days. I’ve been to counseling at various points in my life, so reciting from the script, so to speak, is nothing new for me. This time, though, felt different. Nate started poking around in areas that I’ve wanted to unpack, but have been reluctant to go. Somewhat surprisingly, I went with him.
One of my biggest struggles has centered around the concept of fatherhood. My parents divorced when I was young and for a long time, I’ve wrestled with what being a good father looks like from a practical sense. Growing up, my dad’s love and presence was a constant in my life, but due to the divorce, his physical presence always seemed slightly out of reach. A Christmas gift that I had to wait to open. While my schoolmates sat down for dinner around a table with their families; I sat at mine with my mom and sisters. It was my family, but it was incomplete. Dad was always a phone call away, but if I wanted to hug him, shoot baskets with him, or be tucked into bed by him, I had to wait until the weekend.
Needless to say, I’ve always felt a little like I was “winging it” after my kids were born. I had the theory, but didn’t necessarily have the practical application down. I felt like I was an ok dad, but definitely not a good one. It was this area that Nate wanted to dive down into. As we talked, I felt a hitch in my throat. He kept gently peeling. I tried to stammer words out, but couldn’t. My neck felt hot, as if it was the middle of July and I was sweltering under a heating blanket on me. He looked at me with compassion and reassured me that it was ok. After a minute to compose myself, I finally got the words out:
“I don’t know my kids.”
To be fair, I know my kids, but I know them from “my” frame of reference, not theirs. I have failed in taking a “one size fits all” approach to parenting: I’ve attempted to mold my kids into what “I” think they should be. In spite of being a “hands-on” dad and trying to do the right thing by them, I’ve failed to recognize and celebrate their sense of individuality in the grand scheme of things. How can I better work alongside my kids’ uniqueness and help them to become the people they want to be? How can I equip them to be confident to chase their dreams, wants, wishes, and desires? We talked at length about practical ways to accomplish this. At the end of the session, I came to a better understanding that my past failures are not necessarily indicative of an expected outcome, but are merely part of the journey, if I allow them to be. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have someone help me see things as they are and to course correct.
I left Nate’s office feeling better about myself than when I went in. We talked through how I can take a step back with each one of my kids and work on learning them as they are, rather than how I perceive them to be. I half-jokingly said I wanted to pay for weddings some day, not therapy sessions. He responded by giving me confidence that I’m doing something right, despite my constant refrain of my shortcomings. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Before you pull away from the hospital with your newborn strapped in, no one hands you an instruction manual with all of the answers. You learn as you go along.
Thankfully, each day presents a new opportunity for getting it a little more right than I did yesterday.