Am I Still the Night Watchman?

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.

How Can We Know What Is Great About Being A Parent Before We Have Kids?

There were so many things I didn’t know about being a Dad before my Okapis were born. The list of changes is enormous, the impact in my life extraordinary–and it keeps growing. My kids are now ten (and a half) years old and I recently learned a couple of new ones.

I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember. It’s not just love either. Music is part of my life, how I experience the world and myself, how I connect with my own feelings and thoughts, how I recover from the chaos of life and how I show love to my wife. It’s not surprising our kids love music as well.

What has been surprising is how it feels to help them connect to music. When we are in the car and we are listening and all singing along to a song I recently bought, it feels wonderful, like I am bringing joy to my family, sharing my love. Helping my children create their own playlists, helping them to find new music, seeing how they do it on their own feels so wonderful because I know they are incorporating a tool, a healthy resource for them to deal with the chaos life can throw us, the challenges they will face, the joy and love they will experience. Hopefully, they will never need music the way I so desperately did, but they have a connection to it and I feel a strange sense of accomplishment–even though I did not plan this.

As I write this my kids have been in Ecuador for two weeks. Gem and I have had a wonderful time, cooking together every night, making changes to the house, watching Netflix, and not having to worry about the time…the rush of homework, dinner, getting ready for bed, getting them up in the morning, etc. Quite relaxing.

But, of course, we miss them. We’re both ready for them to come home this week, but we won’t see them until we head down there next week. Feels too long, but we know they are having a great experience and we are too. We’ve been texting with them almost every day when they have Wi-Fi (that’s another thing I never imagined, texting with my kids!). Before they left we loaded up their Kindles with books from Amazon and the library, but they are already running out.

Yesterday, I sat down to find more books for them and realized something. Gem has talked about the joy she sometimes feels making dinner for us. Not because cooking is so much fun, but because it is a way of showing her love for us. I feel the same sometimes when I make breakfast on the weekends (which I’ve missed with them so far away).

Getting them books to read, giving them this other resource, helping them to experience the world in another way, to recuperate from the day, is the same thing for me. I like getting them books, because it is another way I can show I love them, how special they are to me. And even better, it is another way we can connect together. A couple of months ago I started reading a series of books (I Am Number Four) and when I finished I thought Lucas would really like it and I shared it with him. He loved it! How many enjoyable conversations did we have with him telling me what part he read, us reading the same books at the same time, talking about what happened.

If someone would’ve told me that I would love getting books for my kids and would thoroughly enjoy sharing the books I love with them, I couldn’t ever have pictured it, let alone believed it.

I think that’s the challenge of becoming a parent. How can you understand something you have never experienced? So much of what is special about it, isn’t humanly possible to comprehend when you don’t have a child you have already fallen in love with.

Ten (and a half) years into it now, and the good things keep on coming.