She was a little over two feet tall. She was a US citizen. But she didn’t speak English. She would shit in her pants. She couldn’t feed herself. She cried often for no reason. She hit me.
She’d get out of the bath and there was no need for clothes. Just a black mess of wet curls at the top of her head. I’d make an imaginary line in the floor. We’d stand there. She couldn’t stop jumping from one foot to the next, dripping wet. And then I’d throw the ball. I’d yell, “Go!” She’d start running after it. I’d chase after her, “get that baby! Get that baby!”
Her laughter would turn into squeals. Her tiny feet on the floor was a drum roll. The ball would be bouncing all over the place. It was a super bouncing ball. I was right on her heels. I could feel the fear as she’d try to go faster. I was so much bigger, more powerful, faster, smarter, and in love with her laughter. I could scoop her up any second I wanted but that would stop the laughter.
We’d run all over the apartment. Her laughter filling every corner. The ball long since forgotten. Now it was just pure chase. And once I would grab her and held her I would be in total control, the master of her universe. So she would run as fast as she could, trying to outsmart me, trying for the first time ever to be her own person, but there was just no hope for her and we both knew it.
Now she knows English. Now she’s taller. Now she’s older. Now I don’t chase her. She’s faster than me and I’m lazy. Now it’s harder for me to make her laugh. It’s harder for me to draw an imaginary line we both can stand at, even for a second.
I don’t really know how to be a good father. I didn’t want kids in the first place. I don’t know how to set boundaries. I don’t know how to solve the problems of being a tween, or a teen, or a kid, or a mini-adult. I don’t know what clothes they like. Or what games to play. I’m not even sure I know how to solve my own problems.
I don’t know what’s good for them or bad for them . I’m not as confident as “China mom” and I’m not that great as a laissez faire father. When they are here for the weekend we just sit around on computers. I hate going outside in the sun. When they cry I don’t know how to respond. I hug them a lot. But I don’t know if I’m really that good at protecting them. I tell them I love them. But I spoil them too much.
I don’t know how to tell them to pursue a passion. I wish when I was 12 I had pursued a passion. But you can’t ignite that fire in another person. I don’t know how to help them make friends. I say out loud things like, “school’s a prison” because, no BS, it is. But I can’t home school them. No energy to do that. If I’m too tired at night to cook them something, they have to fend for themselves. I don’t know how to solve the bickering they have with each other.
And in a few years none of these problems won’t matter. They’ll be gone. It will be too late. I won’t matter at all. Maybe I can be a good grandfather.
A decade ago, I’m chasing her until I hear her breathing hard. The ball nowhere to be found. My little one year old is tired. I scoop her up and hold her over my head. She’s laughing. Squirming in my hands. Protected and held by me. I got her! I’M A FATHER!
I do give some advice to them. But they aren’t necessarily good for day for day. They are more advice for kids on how to be better adults: