Three years ago on this day, I was caught up in the excitement of becoming a father. I was doing my best to prepare for how different my life would be, how to handle an infant and how to be a good dad. I had no idea what I was in for. Two years ago I was in the proverbial weeds dealing with things like teething, getting Olivia to drink formula and figuring out how to handle our incredibly fussy child. I had picked up a few tricks, but I still felt like I was winging it most of the time. A year ago I was dealing with temper tantrums, trying to avoid being bitten out of frustration and feeling relief over finally getting solid nights of sleep again. Some things were better, some things worse and overall it felt like maybe I was getting a handle on being a dad. Where am I at today? Trying to explain to our toddler who will not nap that it's not a good idea to drop a deuce in her diaper, reach inside to touch it and then wipe it all over her shirt. So, I guess I'm right where I should be?
It feels like this is the beginning of the really meaty part of being a parent and father. Olivia is old enough now to understand much of what we say, regardless of whether or not she wants to actually hear it, and we're trying our best to discipline her and teach her early socialization stuff. We're trying to mold our child into becoming a little lady who says things like "hello," "please," and "ain't nobody got time for dat." Unfortunately it's not always easy, and I've had to do more than my fair share of being the bad cop around here. It does feel like I can be a bit harsh on her at times, but I'm still trying to find my way. I don't tolerate her hitting, throwing food or spoiling any television shows she has seen that I haven't yet. And yes, I'll admit that I might have taken it too far when she asked me who she has to be polite to and I was like, "Duh."
Fatherhood for me these days feels less about taking care of the menial things like dishes, trash and diaper changing (although I'm still handling a lot of that) and more about establishing a strong bond with our little evil genius. So amidst all of the disciplining, temper wrangling and clinginess to Jodi I'm trying to squeeze in moments with her that create a daddy/daughter connection. Don't get me wrong though, it's not all bad and not always difficult. She loves helping me out with things like running errands, small fix-it stuff involving a screwdriver and blowtorch, putting away groceries and defeating all of the villains in my movies. Some people bond with a child over good natured fun, while others do it by throwing roundhouse kicks together. To each their own.
These days I'm also starting to see some of the challenges I'll face in dealing with other children and their parents in relation to Olivia. She and I recently visited our favorite nearby playground and had to face our first bully. Olivia had been playing catch with herself for about 10 minutes with a stick that I can only describe as 'the best throwing stick in the history of the world ever.' You know the kind of stick I'm talking about, right? One that you just want to bring home to mount on the wall, then open a bottle of 50 year old scotch and sit in front of a roaring fire while getting drunk and reminiscing about all the fun times you had throwing said stick. No? Just me?
Anyway, Olivia was all content and in her own world when this boy, who seemed to be maybe 3-4 years old, comes over to see what's so fantastic about this stick. She throws it, begins to chase after and he immediately snatches it up before she can get it. She turns to me with eyes that say, "But Daddy, my stick!," and I tell her to ask him nicely for it back, but he proceeds to throw it away from her. She tries to go after and he beats her to it again, then throws it once more. I decide to step in and grab the stick before he does and give it back to Miss O. He then gets right up in her face, and instead of waiting for her to throw it just takes it right out of her hand. I pause for a second to see if this boy's father had taken notice of what was going on, but he was staying back, feigning ignorance and continuing to talk on his phone, just as he had been since the moment he and his son entered the playground. I felt the best course of action was to move on to another stick, but when we tried that he did it all over again. So, I decided to get Olivia interested in the slide and took her over to help her climb up to it. The boy immediately darts over to the opposite side of the structure, climbs up and runs over to where I was hoisting Olivia and then proceeds to block her from going any further.
At this point, I flat out want to tell this boy to stop being a dick to my child and tell his dad to start acting like a parent. Unfortunately I'm just not the confrontational type. In fact in grade school I was runner up 'Boy who is least likely to be confrontational,' and that's only because it was a tie and I let the other kid have it. So I did my best to herd Olivia away from this little bully and watch as he started blocking another girl from using the slide too. Only then did the dad finally intervene and scold his son for being mean. The whole walk home I was hypersensitive to the attitudes and actions of people around me, worrying about what kind of world my daughter was going to grow up in and how I'd ever be able to protect her from all the bad in it. Plus, how could I think that a 3 year old could be a dick? He's just a kid, right? Maybe he just needed a Snickers or something? But then lo and behold, we went to the same park the next day and he was there again. This time he had his mom, two teenage sisters and one slightly younger sister in tow. The whole time all he tried to do was push the younger sister and block her from doing anything, all while she cried out for him to get away from her so she could have some peace. What a dick.
Another big part of fatherhood for me these days seems to consistently focus on getting Olivia to actually want to be with me, as well as with Jodi. I've written about it before, and it feels like I'm beating a dead horse, but goddamn it sucks. Sure there are moments where we can play together and have fun, but most of the time that's only if Jodi isn't around. If we're all together, then Olivia shows me through words, actions and subtle handgun waving that I am the third wheel and should step the fuck off. We went to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum this Father's Day (super awesome), and almost every moment before, during and after it centered on Olivia needing to be right next to Jodi and making things difficult for her. Jodi's currently wearing a boot, using a cane and sporting a massive pimp hat because she hurt her foot and needs to take it easy. Unfortunately all Olivia wanted to do was constantly ask her questions ("What doin, mama?"), hold her hand, make her do everything for her and use the cane for herself because she thought it was fun. Olivia still doesn't understand how difficult things are for Jodi, both with the boot and with RA in general, so we're stuck in a rut. Until the day she does, I'll keep trying to help out and relieve Jodi however I can. That, and nod in agreement as Jodi silently mouths, "She's crazy," to me after Olivia blows up for the umpteenth time over something insignificant.
After all is said, done and yelled out in bitter toddler rage, I can still say that I love being a father. I love seeing our child grow and develop. Love talking to her and listening intently as she explains the things she did that day, be they about going to the park or her continued progress with plotting to take over the world. I love having a partner in all of this who is incredibly supportive, thoughtful and always there to remind me that, while it may seem otherwise, our child has not put a bounty on my head. Lastly, and quite honestly, I think I love how much crazy this kid has brought into my life. Because without her I'd probably have very little to write about, or it'd be incredibly boring. I doubt that when she is old enough to read and understand what I've been writing that she'd want to see something like: "Dear Olivia. Today I took you to the park and you seemed to have fun. The sky was blue and there was sunshine. So, yeah, you're welcome for that memory." I believe she'd rather read something like this: "Dear Olivia. Today was Father's Day and you were incredibly difficult and wanted nothing to do with me. Then, right before you went to bed, you and I somehow bonded over making finger mustaches on our faces and all was right in the world again."