Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Part-time Schedule for a Full-time Dad

I bought a bright, red Elmo t-shirt today. I plan to wear it with a big Muppet grin of my own. In truth, I’m more of an Ernie man, but I have a two year old who is a nut for Sesame Street’s number one red, furry monster. Seeing Daddy in the shirt will make his eyes go big and all his baby teeth show. I’m selfish. Seeing him smile will make me smile too.

And I’ve been picking out his clothes for the last two years. It’s about time I let him pick out my clothes for a change.

If I worked for Ronald McDonalds and was on fries, I’d be wearing a paper hat. The U.S. Postal Service would have me going house to house in blue shorts, a fisherman’s hat, and a can of dog repellant. Those are five days a week gigs. Hamilton County has decided that I only get to see my youngest boy on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and alternating weekends. I’d like it if I could get more hours on the schedule each week. I keep hearing about a shortage of fathers, but maybe that’s just an urban legend.

But I love the hours I do get on the clock as Daddy. I love my little two year old co-worker. And I’ve even learned to get excited about the red-faced monster that’s on my new uniform. The t-shirt tells the world that either I’m mentally disturbed or I have a small child at home; I like to declare my Dad status. I try not to worry about the misplaced orders of a less than just system that wants to shrink my time with my son. I can’t always be around my little boy, but I feel like I carry him with me, especially when his favorite monster is on my on my shirt.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Beware the Ides of March

I suppose there should be something worrisome about being asked to appear in family court on March 15th. Shakespeare wrote that Julius Caesar was reportedly stabbed to death in a government building. Most U.S. citizens above the age of eighteen are more worried about having their wallets and their bank accounts stabbed to death by the I.R.S. on April 15th, so maybe the whole 31 day period between March 15 and April 15 could be considered a time of bad juju.

But I can only say, without pride or ego, that on that particular March 15th, I weren't scurred.

It wasn't that I was convinced of the righteousness of my cause and knew that I was protected by the shield of justice and the armor of truth. It wasn't because I was prayed up and had an army of warrior archangels going into court with me that morning. I couldn't even claim that I'd filled up on green beer over the weekend and had Lucky Charms for breakfast and had some pre-St. Paddy's Day Luck of the Irish shinning off me that had me looking like I was a refugee from Emerald City and "just had to be seen green".

My lack of fear in family court had to do with the difference between hope and resilience.

When you wear white clothes to that rib joint and pray that you can make it through the meal without spilling barbeque on yourself, that's engaging in hope. But when you not only know that you will leave the rib joint splattered in so much barbeque sauce that your shirt will look like it has polka dots, but you made sure to bring a red and white tie to match, then that is resilience.

For fathers in family court, hope is a reckless thing. Hope will bring disappointment, anger, outrage, tears, and self doubt. Hope leads to scars and those scars scab up, and, if you're lucky, those scabs eventually lead to resilience. We fathers come to know that each court appearance means the legal punches and kicks will be coming, and that's okay, because there aren't any new or suprising places left to kick us anymore.

Those scars and bruises are badges of fatherhood. The family court system may make our skin seem leathery and tough, but we save our soft, caring inner selves for our children that we love and for who we endure.

And as our children age and mature, they are the only judges whose opinions really matter.

This article appeared in the March 22, 2010 edition of the online Cincinnati Defender.