I’m used to being the only dad in a crowd of moms wherever I go. As a father who works from home and raises five kids, I’ve gotten used to it.
Recently, I was at my daughter’s basketball game with my other four children. We were in the bleachers near a few other moms. I was near the moms, but not with them. There’s a difference.
After all these years of attending sporting events, parent/teacher meetings, and parish fund-raisers, I’m still seen as separate from the moms. And make no mistake, I’m OK with that. I don’t chit or chat easily, and when asked to do both together, it usually ends badly. After years of study, I’ve accepted the fact that moms and dads are just different.
I know it’s not popular nowadays to even notice that men and women are different. Or that moms and dads have different roles. And even if some people gasp when you say it, it doesn’t make it less true. In fact, I’ve found that the truer something is, the more gasps you’ll get when you say it.
I will never understand the ability of women to spelunk so quickly into the depths of each other’s lives, telling each other things I wouldn’t speak of if I were alone in a room. But that’s what they do. Me? I keep score of the game, which is pretty easy considering most of the kids can’t reach the rim with the ball. The score usually stays in very manageable single digits. I don’t have to carry the one or anything.
But that day, something happened that stopped the game dead.
A little girl heaved the ball up, and it didn’t just miss the net, the rim, and the backboard—it missed the court. The ball bounced off the wall, careened off the bleachers, and rolled away from the pack of girls who chased it until … it rolled right into the boy’s bathroom. And there they stopped. Nothing puts the stop on little girls like a boy’s bathroom. In a little girl’s world, there’s only one thing ickier than a boy, and that’s a boy’s bathroom. And I’m not saying they’re wrong about that.
But they were most assuredly at an impasse. They stared at each other, dumbfounded. What to do? Here was a situation there’d been no practice for. No playbook. The girls looked at their mom-coaches, and the mom-coaches looked back at the kids. The ball might as well have rolled off the end of the earth.
This was a job for a man. I stood up. Not too proudly, I took my son by the hand and we walked across the court like heroes. I walked slowly, I’ll admit, and right across the court. There aren’t enough moments like this in life, so when you come across one, you walk through it slowly.
We went to the edge of the bathroom doorway, and I dispatched my son in. This was a gift I could bestow upon him. I could allow him to be the conquering hero, and I would stand proudly by his side as his father.
He walked right into the boy’s bathroom. And we all waited. And waited. And waited some more. All eyes were on me.
Just as I was about to go fetch him, my boy emerged, holding the basketball overhead like a trophy. The moms cheered and my son bowed. Then the women went back to talking about doctor’s diagnoses, intimate heartbreaks, and uncertain financial futures.
I asked my son what took so long and he whispered back a little uncomfortably that the ball had “a little gunk on it.” He said he didn’t think that sharing that with the girls was a good idea. I was impressed by his wisdom.
As this story illustrates, there are some things that only dads can do. Here are some more I’ve noted:
Bravery. Someone needs to teach boys that getting hit ain’t the worst thing in the
world, but an unwillingness to get hit might be.
Potty tricks. Someone has to teach boys how to go to the bathroom. There are things moms just don’t know about. There’s a lot more to it than you think. Trust me here.
Integrity. Someone needs to explain to children why the number 714 means something. And explain why Barry Bonds doesn’t.
Honor code. Someone needs to explain to boys that you never, ever hit a girl. And someone has to explain to the girls that they can’t hit boys because … well, because they can’t hit you back.
Living example. A mom can explain to a son how they want to be treated, but watching a dad treat a mom with respect and love, every single day, day in and day out, is still the best way to learn that lesson.
Teaching love. Little girls learn how they should be treated by the way their father treats them. That’s a heavy load when you think about it. And I often do. A girl won’t be desperate to run away to the first guy who tells her he loves her, if there’s a man who has told her (and shown her!) he loves her throughout her childhood.
Consistency. Teenage girls can get all sorts of moody. They want hugs one second and storm up the stairs the next, but dads must stay the same. Girls need a dad that makes them come down the stairs and walk up them again, this time without stomping. That kind of consistency tells them you love them, whether they’re hugging or stomping.
Compliments. There doesn’t seem to be a much better moment in a little girl’s week than when she hears from her dad on Sunday morning that she looks pretty. Not cute. Pretty. There’s a difference, and they know it.
Threats. Let’s face it—a family needs a threat. You don’t even have to make good on it all that often. Most of the time, the threat is all you need.
Pest control. Someone’s got to kill the bugs. I’m not talking about the little, flitting ones. I’m talking about the ones that look big enough to ride the big roller coaster at the church fair. I’m talking about the ones that could shave but don’t because they think it makes ’em look tough. I’m not saying moms can’t squish these kinds of bugs, but I think most moms like knowing they don’t have to.
Roughhousing. Most children want to be lifted up and tossed around a little bit. They want to be held above their dad’s head or dangled from an ankle. Sometimes they want to be tickled until they beg for mercy, and then they want you to do it again just when they catch their breath. I’ve found that homes filled with giggling and squealing are happy ones.
Safety. Most kids feel love, comfort, and sympathy for their moms, but they feel safe next to their dads. There’s just something about leaning on someone that you couldn’t move even if you had a running start and all day to try that makes you feel safe.
Commitment. I think it’s important for little girls to know that their dad said, “I do,” and actually did. And still does.
Faith. And then there’s praying. There’s just something about kids seeing the strongest person they know on this earth go to his knees that tells them just about everything they need to know about our place in this world.
I’m amazed at the way my wife handles the children. Her surprise hugs and little whispers in their ears at just the right moment make me thankful to even know her. She says and does things I wouldn’t even think to do. But that’s just it. It’s not that I couldn’t, it’s just that I wouldn’t think to do it, so I can’t. Similarly, I think there are just some things moms can’t do.
And that’s why God made dads.