I am the Night Watchman. I’ve been the Night Watchman since my kids were about 18 months old. Because I worked in the City all day, I didn’t have much time with them when they were awake and both Gem and I were concerned I wasn’t building as strong a connection to them as I wanted. Our solution was for me to become the Night Watchman.
Anything that happened after we put them to bed was my responsibility. If they had trouble falling asleep or if they woke up because they had a nightmare or didn’t feel well or whatever the reason, I was the one who went to them, helped them feel better and soothed them back to sleep.
It was a job I loved.
The chance to be there for my children, to show them I could also take care of them and meet their needs and make them feel safe changed my relationship with them. It also gave me confidence that I can help them when they need help. It gave me the sense that no matter what was bothering them, I could help them feel better.
But I just learned I can’t be the Night Watchman in another language.
Dorit, our daughter, recently had an emergency appendectomy in Quito, Ecuador. Thankfully, both Gem and I were there with her, but it was so hard and frustrating for me because my Spanish is okay enough to have a conversation; it is nowhere near good enough to deal with medical and administrative issues in that language.
Nurses and doctors would come in and ask her questions and I couldn’t help her answer them. I didn’t know what they were doing to her and I couldn’t let them know exactly what was bothering her. I could hold her hand while they inserted the needle for the IV and I bought her flowers and balloons to brighten up her room during her stay.
But it has been almost a decade since I felt so incompetent and useless as a dad. A feeling I didn’t enjoy the first time around and certainly didn’t enjoy now.
I know that Dorit doesn’t look at me with less respect or love because I don’t know Spanish well enough. She’s healing and getting better and you almost couldn’t tell she had surgery to remove one of her organs a few days ago. But I know, for the first time in a very long time, I didn’t meet the challenge of being her Daddy, and that insight will take me some time to recover from.
I suspect this is just the beginning of events in my children’s lives where I won’t be able to protect them the way I could (or at least felt I could) at night when they were young. They almost never wake up in the middle of the night anymore. But they do have to deal with bullies and mean teachers and things that feel too hard or too overwhelming. They will have their hearts broken.
I can’t protect them from the chaos of our world. But maybe loving them, reminding them of how wonderful I think they are, helping them think through their problems to figure out some possible solutions, maybe this is more of my role now.
Right now that doesn’t feel like enough, but maybe it actually is and is probably what they need me to be. I’m not giving up the role of Night Watchman, but it seems as if my responsibilities are changing.