Father’s Day weekend last year, President Obama continued a conversation he began on the campaign trail, about the importance of responsible fatherhood in our country.
“I say this as someone who grew up without a father in my life,” he told a group of community leaders and teenage boys at the White House. “That’s something that leaves a hole in a child’s heart that governments can’t fill.”
And in an essay released the week before, the President said more fathers need to “step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one.”
It’s a subject that rouses me because my husband, like Mr. Obama, was abandoned by his father at a young age.
It’s part of his life story, obviously, but it’s not a big part of his identity. I’m pretty sure I’m more angry about it than Erik is.
It’s a familiar story: After his dad left when he was five, Erik would get a phone call or a card from him on his birthday or at Christmas. Most of the time. But soon the calls came less frequently, and eventually his father just kind of faded away.
I cannot imagine what that must have been like.
But Erik was raised by a strong, capable, reliable mother and grandmother to become a strong, capable, reliable man.
And he is an amazing father. He transcended whatever legacy his own father left behind, and he made it look easy.
I’ve been surprised, at times, by how intuitive it has been for him. From the moment I first told him we were going to be parents, at a time in our lives that wasn’t ideal, his reaction was ecstatic. There was no fear, no hesitation.
Our sons adore their father, and he returns the affection. Sometimes after we tuck them into bed we share anecdotes about their day – funny things they said or did that amused us.
Often he’ll shake his head and say, “Gosh, I love those boys.” Almost like it amazes him, over and over again, how much love he can have for his children – and that his capacity for loving them is always swelling.
And when we’re at the places where other boys and young men hang out, he can spot the ones without male role models in their lives. They look aimless, like they’re searching for something.
Responsible fatherhood isn’t reliant on the father being in a committed relationship with the mother – that’s ideal, of course, but everyone knows it doesn’t always work out that way.
It’s about him being in a committed relationship with his children.
I know many divorced dads and single dads who are wonderful fathers. Period. But I think we as a country need to stop shaming single mothers while giving a free pass to fathers who, like the President said, have “abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men.”
In Erik’s father’s case, I will never understand it. I have known my husband since middle school and know that he has, constantly and without fail, been an excellent son and human being: Smart, driven, funny, honest, kind.
And I always think, it would have been so easy. He wouldn’t have asked for much from a father.
I don’t feel sorry for Erik, because he has never felt sorry for himself. He has gone on to success in school and in his career, and he is an involved and unabashedly loving father to his sons and his new daughter.
When our children grow to find success of their own, Erik can take pride in helping guide them.
That’s something Erik’s father has deprived himself of – along with the grandchildren he will never know.
So if I feel sorry for anyone, it’s him.
Not at all.
The new haircuts they acquired over the weekend, however, may lead you to this conclusion. Really, there's no need for alarm.
You see, for several years I have been cutting costs by cutting the hair of all three of my boys (that tally includes my husband).
I'm the first to admit there have been some mishaps.
In the time since my mother-in-law gifted me a set of clippers, I have both shaved one of my husband's sideburns bald after forgetting to attach the comb, and later, while attempting to trim the area around his ear with a scissors, sliced him open right above the left lobe.
But we saved $15 on each of those occasions, so I, for one, believe it was well worth it.
My sons are perhaps justifiably less thrilled to have me cut their hair, especially my older son, Eli.
His hair is so thick it, for lack of a better term, is woolly. He wanted to grow it out, but since the weather turned, it's been like wearing a shaggy sheepskin on his head, and he's been in dire need of a shearing.
Still he resisted - until he came home from skateboarding Saturday and announced he was ready for me to cut his hair … into a Mohawk.
Apparently, he was inspired by "that one guy at the skate park" — an older kid who's a really good skater and whose coolness is compounded by his haircut.
This was the first time in his life Eli has had an opinion on anything related to style. He usually just doesn't care. But he sat down in the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his shoulders, and said, "I'm ready when you're ready, Mama."
There are no major holidays approaching. No school pictures. What's the worst that could happen? So I went for it.
Let me tell you, giving a 7-year-old a Mohawk is harder than it would seem.
Mostly, it's a challenge to get it straight. His isn't. Not even close, really. But lucky for me this is only noticeable from the vantage point of an adult.
The other thing I didn't anticipate was that his 5-year-old brother, with his beautiful straight shiny locks that I have long kept in a pretty-boy cut, would upon seeing his brother decide that he, too, needed a Mohawk.
I planned for Jack's to be a much more subtle gradation, using the Â½ inch comb at the sides and the 1 inch on top. I was clever. But then, after trimming the top and realizing the "hawk" part was uneven, I accidentally switched to the Â¼ inch comb for the sides.
"Oh, no!" I cried when it was too late.
"What is it?" he demanded, probably thinking I had just sliced off a section of his ear.
But when it was done, he loved it.
As I vacuumed up their locks from the bathroom floor, I could hear Jack improvising a song in the shower: "Uh-huh… Oh, yeah … I have a Mohawk. First Mama said I couldn't, but then she gave me one anyway … Oh, yeah … I have a Mohawk …"
Then, still in song, "Now I have to pee, but I'm in the shower. Should I get out, or should I just pee in the shower?"
I won't get into how that was resolved.
Eli told me, "Thank you so much for the haircut, Mama. I always wanted some kind of Mohawk."
When I asked him why, he said, "Because … it just makes you look so much cooler. Doesn't it?," framing his head with his hands, like Madonna in the "Vogue" video.
I thought you were cool before, I said, but yes, you may have gone up a few notches.
Jack came in and nodded at his brother in appreciation. "Your haircut looks awesome, Eli," he said.
"Thanks, Jack. So does yours."
So though they may spend the summer looking like hellions, they're not acting like it quite yet. But if their choice in haircut is any indication, they may have a little rebel in them already.
Friday night Erik came home from the store with the boys and their new $5.50 bows and arrows. Immediately this was added to what I think of as "unexpected allowances" — things that, if you had asked me when I righteously started out on this parenting adventure, I would never have allowed. Four-year-olds watching Star Wars movies? No. Seven-year-olds in wrestling? No. Bows and arrows? NO. But, you know, boys happen.
They woke up before dawn and started playing "Indians." They made headdresses with elaborate scenes drawn on them. Explanation of Eli's headdress: "The Indians are running away from the big bear into the house, and then the chief Indian came and he got out his bow and arrow and starting shooting the bear." Explanation of Jackie's headdress: "A bunch of Indians and the sun (the sun has sunglasses) are running away from the big tornado and one Indian got sucked up into the tornado and some of the Indians are trying to take the sun's sunglasses." Epic.
They drew pictures of animals and taped them to the wall and hunted them, colored a fire to cook with, and built an earthen lodge out of couch cushions.
Eli appointed himself Chief, and Jackie was "Chief's Apprentice." Jackie would begin a sentence with, "Eli?...," then cut himself off and say, "I mean, excuse me, Chief?"
Here they enjoy a brief breakfast break — cereal for the Chief, oatmeal (two helpings) for the Chief's Apprentice.
Chief dragging Chief's Apprentice off the battlefield.
"You were shot the in back with two arrows, but you're going to be okay. I'm going to get the medicine man."
Then Erik woke up, made himself an even more elaborate headdress than either of theirs, and announced, "There's a new chief in town, boys."
And that's why he, my friends, is the source of all my unexpected allowances.