My eight-year-old daughter said the sweetest thing to the Hubster this weekend and boy, did it make me feel wretched.
The Hubster took our youngest skating, and out of the blue, she said: "Daddy, when I get up in the morning, you are always there. When I am hungry, it's you who puts food on the table. When I need someone to play with, you always play with me. Thank you, Daddy."
The Hubster's eyes got a little teary when he recounted the story to me later. What a lovely thing for a child to say to her father. This story should have made me feel utterly happy, but instead I felt like I was simultaneously kicked in the stomach and stabbed in the heart. She should be saying that to ME!
I was momentarily overwhelmed with guilt. I should be the first person she sees in the morning, the person who puts food on the table when she is hungry. When was the last time I played with her? Nothing jumped to mind. I've been shirking my motherly duties! Bad mother! I may as well just start smoking crack!
Like many dads these days, the Hubster has taken an active role in parenting. When our daughters were infants, he often changed their diapers, bathed them, got them dressed and did the laundry. When they were toddlers, his night-shift work schedule meant that he spent a lot of time with them during the day. He volunteered at their nursery school far more often than I did. In recent months, though, he's been taking on an even bigger share of the parenting duties as I took on some extra work projects.
He's routinely in charge of breakfasts, has completely taken over packing school lunches and has taken the lead on homework duty so that I can work in the evenings. On Sundays, he makes Michael Smith's whole wheat pancakes shaped like hearts. This past weekend, I returned home from taking one daughter to gymnastics to discover he had gone tutu shopping with our other daughter, made lunch and was just putting banana chocolate chip muffins in the oven for next week's lunches.
That's when I said something to the Hubster that I never thought I would say: "You did such a great job picking out that tutu!"
This is all good, right? Then why do I feel guilty and sad about it? I used to be the one my daughters counted on to give them meals and to play with them. Do fathers who work a lot feel guilty like this too? Or is this guilt a mother thing? I'm still spending lots of time with my girls, but I'm having trouble letting go of some parenting tasks traditionally associated with mothers.
I confessed my guilt to the Hubster, who was startled by the horrified look on my face as he recounted his lovely story.
"We're a team," he said. "You do lots for the girls. You can't feel guilty for not doing everything. You can't."
He's right, I told myself, taking a deep breath. Besides, by working as a team, we're setting a good example for our girls. I felt a little better.
"There are a few things I won't be doing," he added as I walked away. "You're the one who is going to handle all the sex talks and the bra shopping!"
Li'l Girl Talk
"Your reading chair is the toilet," says The Oldest, age 11, when I suggest she read her book in the "reading chair" in my bedroom where there is better light.
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