Being a dad is richly rewarding, at times painfully stressful, and often, crazy and funny. We screw up…a whole lot. Because we are trying so hard to get it right. Coach John Wooden once said, “If you’re not making mistakes then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” [Tweet This]. The key, of course, is what we take from those mistakes that grow our character and competence.
When my oldest daughter was not quite four years old and my youngest was 6 months, my family moved to Florida to allow my wife to pursue a dream opportunity. Technology allowed for me to continue creative pursuits and take the massive step of raising two young daughters full time. For the first full year, we lived in a small furnished apartment provided by the company. It was me, a toddler and infant, and some cheap surroundings. If you’ve never been in that situation, I can assure you, it’s terrifying. The baby would only eat applesauce and nothing else, and the 4-year-old was bouncing off the walls bored. I rolled up my sleeves and just dove in head first doing things my way and hoping for the best. They are 17 and nearly 14 now, and they are two of the coolest people I’ve ever known. I’d like to think it has a little bit to do with the way they were raised—that put love above all else and the rest we’ll figure out.
Here are a few of my crazy dad stories from the trenches, and I offer them as solidarity to other dads out there making mistakes and getting better each day. Just keep living and learning and never give up.
Lost in the Jungle
When a child hits about 12, you start trusting them more to get around. We turn off the hawkeyes just a little bit to allow some freedom. So there the three of us were at Disney World in a weird jungle-themed restaurant eating dinner. In front of me was a Disney-priced steak and I was really hungry. It had just been served and the youngest wants to go to the bathroom. I’m looking at the steak and looking at my oldest. Trust her to do this or not? I chose steak. Bad decision. My oldest led her sister past the gorilla and around the elephant to the bathroom. I watched them all the way. Yet somehow, they came out and got lost in dinosaurs and unicorns. My fear built each second they didn’t return and finally panic set in. I was near hysterical when I came to the table to flag a manager and there they sat with the waiter. Those minutes of panic were the worst of my parenthood. The moral of this story is to always place your needs second to being a parent 100% of the time. I never want to feel that way again.
To Fly or Not to Fly
It was Daddy Field Day in kindergarten. All the dads were instructed to bring a kite to fly with their adoring young child. My childhood somehow never had a kite in it. In the cocky fashion I sometimes fall victim to, I figured I was smart enough to learn on the fly. So I bought the cheapest kite at Walmart and showed up on time, but lacking preparation. The humiliation to follow is still legendary all these years later. The kite never left the ground. It was the Hindenburg of kite days for my daughter and me. Our children see us as heroes, and while we can’t be perfect in everything, we can surely give it our full effort. I failed her that day because I didn’t take it seriously.
Wake up, Daddy!
In the early elementary years of my eldest, I had an active social life and was playing drums in a band. Afternoon carline was often a time for me to take a quick nap. One day, I had been out late the night before playing a show at Clearwater’s baseball stadium and was exhausted. I fell dead asleep as the hot sun beat down into the car. You can imagine the laughter as they knocked on my window, “Mr. Abernathy, wake up! Wake up!” My second grader just stood on the sidewalk shaking her head. “Oh, Daddy.” That was the moment I realized I couldn’t live a double life. I was still holding on to who I was in my 20’s while trying to be great at who I am now. We have to know when to close one chapter so we can fully move to the next.
Huddle up with your kids tonight and share some funny memories of times you’ve messed up. It builds closeness.