I was caught completely off-guard when I became a father, which is rather remarkable considering I willingly participated in several rounds of outcome-based procreation. I shouldn’t complain; I knew the end result.
But I had no idea that fatherhood meant fast-tracking my reluctant journey to adulthood—a foreign land where feeling out of place has become a near daily experience for me. A place where the neighborhood kids would call me “Mr. Sokolowski” and I’m supposed to keep a straight face. A place where I would be expected to know the answers to questions like “Why can I see the moon in the morning?” and “Where does our pee end up after we flush the toilet?”
I’m sure full-blooded adults can breeze through parental litmus tests like those. For them, parenthood feels natural. But not for me. After more than a decade of practice, I’m still not sure what a full-blooded adult dad is supposed to be. I just know I’m not it. And neither are many accidental adults. Especially the kind of fathers that most retailers think we should be, judging by those “Gifts for Dads” displays that pop up in stores around Christmas and Father’s Day.
Music for Dads:
Are we really supposed to buy CD box sets of Elvis, Jimmy Buffett and The Doobie Brothers just because we procreated? Sure, I’ll admit it. I’ve seen Neil Diamond in concert a few times. I was even singing “Bah-bah-bum” to “Sweet Caroline” long before it was cool. But I’m prouder to say I’ve seen Mötley Crüe, Ratt and Prince several times, and at an age when more responsible fathers were spending their hard-earned money on family vacations and not on concert tickets.
Tools for Dads:
When was the last time you got excited over a socket wrench set or a wet/dry vacuum? Same here. So why do retailers think these are the perfect gifts for fathers? Don’t they know that gifting a tool sends the wrong message to us accidental adults? “Hey Daddy, you deserve a special treat that makes it easier for you to perform manual labor in every spare moment you have!”
Clothes for Dads:
By now, my family knows better than to give me a snazzy tie or a smart pair of trousers, and I hope your family does too. Yet too many clothing stores still think most fathers simply love a good cardigan or a pair of toasty wool slippers. Like these stores, we are prone to delusional thinking from time to time. We may not be fashion-forward fathers, but most mornings, the guy we see in our bathroom mirrors is more of a Banana Republic dad than a JCPenney dad.
So what kind of dad am I? You might have to ask my three children. And that worries me. Because unless I’m more careful, my kids are going to call me out and expose me for the reluctant grownup I really am—much sooner than I’d like. Why?
- I’m the guy who repeatedly buys peanut-laced treats when it’s our turn to bring the school snack to share. “Didn’t you know that’s not allowed, Daddy?” You’d think I would.
- I’m the guy who picks up his daughter from a birthday party and asks the only other adult male in the house which little girl he’s picking up. “He lives here, Daddy. His daughter is the birthday girl.” Right. Should’ve just kept my mouth shut.
- I’m the guy who will occasionally run through a grocery store, sprinting down the aisles, sometimes jumping onto the shopping cart’s lower-shelf to temporarily glide for a while, even if I’m wearing a sport coat, tie and dress shoes. “Daddies don’t run inside stores! You look like a kid!” Just keep up with me. Your mother is waiting in our God-forsaken minivan, and your brother is driving her nuts.
Since I’ll probably never morph into another Ward Cleaver watching the Evening News clenching my pipe every night, maybe the best I can hope for is to keep my accidental adult identity hidden from my kids—at least as long as possible. Someday I’ll make a mangled model rocket with my son and pray he doesn’t notice. Then later in school we’ll build some shitty-ass LEGO robot that fails the morning of the science fair. And I’ll certainly attempt to build a proper paper airplane for my kids, and then blame their throwing skills when it doesn’t fly correctly.
As long as my three children know I tried to help them, with love in my heart and obscenities held securely beneath my breath, that’s all that matters. In spite of their maturity-challenged father, my cherished children will survive, and they will thrive. And yes, they will grow up.
Accidentally, I hope.
—Photo Goldemberg Fonseca/Flickr