“I love you, Daddy.” Those four words uttered unprompted and purely spoken from the heart, not simply the mouth, sets my world on ablaze. Everything is alright then.
No argument is too thick to separate, no struggle too tangling, no misunderstanding too alienating, no hurt too deep; in the hearing and in the give and take of those words, all is set aright, and I’m reminded that we are okay again.
Parenting requires full effort. I should be clear. Effective parenting demands full effort.
And, of course, prayer ...lots of prayer.
When I became a single parent, I no longer had a choice in how much effort I’d give. The girls looked to me for everything.
“Dad, what should I wear?” “What should I get my friend for her birthday?” “Can you do my hair?” “Can we go and get a manicure?” “Can you meet my friend’s mom so she can sleep over?” ...the friend, not the mom:) “Dad, I think I need a bra?” “Dad, what is sex?”
The first few months as a single dad felt like an absolute whirlwind. I was widowed and they were half orphaned. Emotions ran deep and erupted frantically at times. Many of those early days were spent just getting through the day to find any space to feel comfortable in our own family. An obvious void rested heavy, them motherless and grieving with an inexperienced single father. Granted, I had the enormous support from my mother who has been nothing short of amazing, but at the end of the day and in the settling dust, I am my daughters’ only parent. It is both my privilege and responsibility to show them the way, teach them how and lead them into tomorrow.
I say to them often, especially in tougher times when they are hurting or frustrated, “God gave you me and me you. And he didn’t make a mistake.”
Honestly, I was as lost in parenting as I was in grief.
So I went for a walk and under a starlit sky, glowing alive, I lost that part of me dying and came back a different man.
I wasn’t a dad, and I wasn’t single. I was, and would be from then forward, a parent, open-hearted to life with my three beautiful daughters through the pain, the hurting, the confusion and the lonely.
The stars just made perfect sense in a whole new way that night. The way they hung perfectly, positioned precisely and shined brightly millions of miles away, as if broadcasting a message of hope in the endless panoramic expanse of the night sky, whispering order and security and future, raptured me from living as a victim in a day I felt I didn’t belong to. Instead, I felt closer to God that night standing under the stars, his stars, and asked simply of him to just help me build the family that we, my wife and I, once started together.
Slowly over the next few weeks, we began to grow again. I wasn’t as concerned with how to necessarily raise three little girls however little girls should be. I would raise them in the exact context we newly lived in.
I introduced them to adventure to keep their hearts curious and growing. We attacked our weaknesses together. I learned how to do a pony tail, and they learned how to fish. They taught me how to paint nails, and I showed them how to scout a hiking trail. Our life together will always be my most beautiful treasure. I absolutely adore it.
Tonight, as on most Wednesday evenings, we continued on with one of my favorite new family traditions: family cook night. It’s quite simple of a tradition. We cook, together.
For us, the kitchen is definitely an adventure. Our measurements are generous, and each of us thinks we really know what we’re doing. Emily’s a pro at cutting anything; Elizabeth expertly dabbles in everything; and Chloe can stir like a boss. Honestly, it’s crazy stressful watching it all happen, but the payoff is magic. Our hearts are open, conversation flows freely, music typically plays in the background and we just go at it celebrating our togetherness in a new family way.
When the kitchen lights are turned off and the sink is full, half of dirty dishes and half clean, those four words find me, and again, I’m reminded that we are all okay.
Not many parenting techniques will pay off quite like the simplicity of simply being together fully in the moment. Everything thick and troubling is cut right through.
As parents, time is a commodity that we sometimes don’t have much of, but the more you generously give of the time you have, fully invested into the lives of your children, the greater and more fruitful of a payoff you’ll share in the years ahead. Together.
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