Dad Guilt

I started reading “Dad is Fat” by Jim Gaffigan over the weekend. Jim and I seem to have a lot in common. We are both men, both dads and we are both Catholic. Well maybe that is where the similarities end, but the book really hits home for me, and I think every modern day dad could relate and get a good laugh from the book.

One of the things Jim talks about is Catholic guilt and Dad guilt. As a fellow Catholic, I am always feeling guilty about something. I feel guilty if I’m happy, because there are people in the world who are sad. If I feel sad, I feel guilty feeling sad about petty things in my life, when there is far more suffering and pain in the world. I feel guilt when I have sex, I feel guilt when I don’t. It never ends, and is especially bad when it comes to being a dad.

I feel guilty if I don’t spend every waking minute with Max when I am home. But then I am mad at myself for not exploring my own interests and passions in life. And I feel guilty for not having enough alone time with Rachel. When I do spend a lot of time with Max, I feel guilty about not spending enough time devoted to doing something constructive and bettering his intellectual development. When I do make him sit down to practice writing his letters, or to do something for school, I feel guilty for not letting him play. I feel guilty if I take Max to McDonalds, because even though I know he loves McDonalds food, it’s not healthy and I feel guilty and lazy for taking a short cut and not preparing a healthier meal. And I can feel just as guilty when I make Max eat something healthy that he doesn’t enjoy eating. There is no end.

But some days, I’m just so exhausted. Both mentally and physically. Some days, I’ll go to work and I’ll get a ton accomplished, and every decision I make seems to pan out. I come home, and I feel great. But then there are days, which seem much more common, where servers crash, I make no progress and seem to take two steps back at work. Those days, I am completely spent. But I know when I get home, I have to get something on the table for dinner. And chances are, Max will want to go outside and play, or go swimming, or go to the park. So even though I feel like I just want to curl up in the fetal position on the couch, eat a bag of Cheetos and watch Sports Center, I have to keep going. Then when he finally goes to bed, I feel guilty about not spending enough time with Rachel. So I try to find time to talk with her, maybe catch up on something we DVR’d. And before I know it, it’s time for bed, and the process starts all over.

And all week, I look forward to the weekend. 2 days, where I have nothing but free time. Free time? What’s that? Oh yeah, that’s the time left over after I’m done mowing the grass, paying bills, grocery shopping, doing repairs around the house, getting Max to t-ball practice and birthday parties, and getting Max to bed. Usually when Max falls asleep, I’m not far behind. My list of movies that I want to watch, the list of unwatched TV shows on my DVR, and that list of books I want to read continue to grow, along with my every growing list of things to feel guilty about…

What’s done is done, focus on the now…

impatientIn this fast moving world, we want everything fast. We want our internet speeds to be fast, when we dine out, we want our food to be served fast, when we are driving from point A to point B traffic sends us over the edge, because it slows us down. Many of us don’t watch live TV anymore, instead we DVR our favorite shows so we can speed through the commercials. I find myself always rushing. The other day I found myself nearly foaming at the mouth, because a woman in line in front of me decided to pay with a check. C’mon!!! I need to get home.

But why? It’s not like there was a million dollars waiting for me on my door step. And with every gust of wind, hundred dollar bills were being swept away. I wasn’t in some strange movie, where if I didn’t get home in 5 minutes, my house would explode. But I still felt annoyed at the woman who pulled out her checkbook. I was tapping my foot, tapping my foot, angrily breathing out through my nose. Annoyed. Blood pressure rising. But why?

Maybe it’s because I grew up in NYC, where there is so much hustle and bustle. Or maybe it’s just the society we live in. One thing I have discovered is that while kids can be just as impatient as adults (are we there yet?), they take time to stop and smell the roses. They take joy in simple things.

Max loves critters of all kinds. Bugs, little lizards, frogs, fish, birds, chipmunks, squirrels, etc. He’s endlessly fascinated by them. He likes reading books about them, collecting them, and watching TV shows about them. For most of us, bugs are just annoyances. Something we try to shoo away, or step on. Birds are the annoying feathered creatures who poop on our freshly waxed cars. Squirrels are just rats with bushy tails. But for Max, they bring him tremendous joy.

Over the weekend, we went to a local park. There is a nice little nature trail with a small stream. If it were up to Max, he would spend hours down there. Scooping tadpoles up, collecting little minnows, listening to the birds chirp, and enjoying the warm sun and cool water. After about an hour, I started rushing Max. I wanted to go home. But why? Max was perfectly content. Sure I was a little hungry and it was almost lunch time. , but I wasn’t in danger of passing out from being so hungry. I didn’t have anything important to do back at the house. But I again found myself rushing. We need to get home.

It’s a hard thing to change. It seems to be how I am wired. Instead of enjoying the present, I am forever looking forward to the next thing. Rushing through life. Instead of enjoying swims in the pool, and grilling in the yard, I am looking forward to the fall. Football, hay rides, new TV shows, and Halloween. Somehow the future always seems more fun, more intriguing. And the same can be said about the past. Do you ever find yourself reminiscing about the “good old days”? Now think back to those days. Did you find yourself saying “Wow my life is awesome”. Probably not. You were probably rushing then too. Rushing through the work week to get to the weekend. Why is it that the future and past always seem so much more attractive?

They probably weren’t. It’s just that we don’t take the time to look around us and appreciate the little things. In a few weeks, we will be going to NY to visit family and friends. The other day I was thinking back to when my niece and nephew were little. When I would visit, we would spend hours playing games of H.O.R.S.E. I would make them laugh with my crazy trick shots. We would play board games and laugh at how my nephew always tried to cheat. My niece would get out her snow cone machine and take great pride in making the snow cones just right. These were great times. And while it was all going on, I was probably looking at my watch. Anxious to get back to Virginia. Why? So I could go back to work? Now my nephew is a senior in high school, and my niece is in her 5th year of pharmacy school. I would give anything to go back and shoot hoops, and play a game of Monopoly with them when they were little.

worryI don’t do it enough myself, but please, I ask you to stop and smell the roses. Stop focussing on what you don’t have. Stop worrying about getting the laundry done. Stop worrying about replying to an e-mail. Smell the roses. Remember the expressions on your kids faces the first time they saw fireworks. Try to be “in the now”. There is no guarantee of tomorrow, and what’s done is done. But the now is yours. You can choose to obsess over the minutiae, focus on the negative, and worry about what tomorrow will bring. BUt you end up missing out on all the positives that are around you every day.