How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

Phantom Feelings

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My older son, Finn, toddles down the stairs at 9:30pm. He’s only been asleep for a couple of hours, but his 6-year-old body is troubling him. “My neck hurts.” He’s in pain, crying. I go to him, confused and sort of surprised, but I’m not sure what the deal is. He’s in pain, and children sometimes make it hard to translate their physical pain from their emotional pain.

“My neck hurts. It’s hurting.” I got that the first time he said it, but still no closer to the truth my wife and I inspect his neck for marks or bruises or rashes or stigmata. He just hurts and he doesn’t know why.

Lately, I’ve been feeling the weight of an invisible cloud. It’s not misty, but more like the truckload of dung that fell on Biff in Back to the Future. I constantly feel like I’m coming up short for people and they’re drifting away because of it. It’s never really been said outright, but I feel like people resent my inability to balance my life. Shouldn’t I have my shit so together that no one and nothing gets left behind. I can see certain people distancing. It sucks.

This is compounded by the fact that I obsessively overcommit from some primal urge to produce, provide and participate in things that will create a future for my family. I don’t know if you’ve ever struggled with this, but I seem to find myself wrecked by the end of the week.

Finn sits in my lap for a moment. His mom comes to brings him back upstairs to take off his shirt, apply a cold compress to his neck and put some strong cream on him. It’s unclear, to both of us, whether our efforts will be successful. But that’s all you can do with phantom pain.

Apply your best judgment, treat it like it’s something real, and go on with your plans.


4 Responses to “Phantom Feelings”

  1. Kevin says:

    I read this and it struck a nerve. As a father I feel too often dismissive about the small aches and pains, nightmares, and avoidance of bedtime of my 4 and 2 year old sons. I work in a job where I am constantly helping college students with their goals and aspirations. I’m tired by the end of the day. Sometimes I just want my kids to go to bed so I can get a few minutes where no one needs anything from me. 100% pure, uncut, me time. Work can sometimes feel like a selfish act, but I know that it provides so much for my boys. It also keeps me away from them. There are weeks where I spend more time with another parent’s college-age kids than my own child-aged kids. Your invisible cloud is also my invisible cloud. All dad’s have an invisible cloud of self-doubt, uncertainty, internal critique of dad performance, etc. The cloud means we know we can do better. It also means that we care enough about our kids to know when we have failed them and when we are their heroes. Sometimes the cloud means important people are in the dark a little, but the sun shines through. Keep it up, man. I’ve seen enough of your stuff to know you give more than 2 shits about the people in your life. From one dad to another, you are probably doing a better job than you realize.

  2. Andrew says:

    I have 17 years in the Navy. A 5 year old boy. By the time I come home I am done. I need that me time. I have helped so many others in my day, I still have to come home and help my family. Its rough and not easy by any means. But I make sure I walk in and hug him and play. We are all doing the best we can. Family first…even if its just for a few minutes at the end of the day.

  3. Hollis says:

    For me, adulthood (parenthood especially) is emotional triage. I’m trying to balance it all, so everyone receives a bandaid even though half of them just wanted stickers and the other half needed splints instead.

  4. Daniela says:

    I love you guys… all I can say right now after reading this and without knowing any of you, nor the author, you guys rock. As dads. Just with the mere fact that you are here on this website, producing it or reading and participating through your comments. I’m raising up my 2 year old adorable son alone. And even if his father was still with us, he would never have put so much energy in reflecting his role as a dad or taking any responsibility whatsoever. I’m almost in tears now for missing so much a dude like what I see here. Feels kinda embarassing…
    Anyhow: keep goin, keep being great dads. Keep making mums like me jealous. It’s good that you exist. xxx

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