Our wives were very close friends. They and our children spent time together. They would also help one another by occasionally watching each others kids or just by having another adult to talk to. While Ron and I were friendly, we didn't see much of each other because of schedules, especially his.
What it took for Ron to be successful, was to work unending hours to prove himself to his company. He knew prior to his hiring what he was getting into, because the field he was in demanded it. I was always home hours before Ron, and although I had some evening classes, I spent much more time around my children-and his too!
One year on Halloween, when our kids were in their peek trick-or-treating years, my neighbor Ron and I were going to escort our kids around the neighborhood to collect their goodies. We each had a boy and a girl then. The girls were princesses and the boys were, of course, superheroes. The block was full of kids, noisily running to and fro in various scary and colorful outfits. It was a beautifully cool evening, a perfect Halloween night.
The six of us met on the sidewalk, with our flashlights and empty bags. The kids were excited but the youngest two, my son and his daughter were a little tentative, being only 3 and 4 years old. My neighbor, sensing this, went to hold his daughters hand...but she pulled away. She walked over to me and asked, “Can I hold your hand?”.
I didn’t know what do to! I felt absolutely terrible for Ron. I recall suggesting to his daughter that she should hold her Daddy’s hand. But kids that age don’t think with their heads, they go with what is comfortable to them at the time. Ron didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything to him. I held his daughter’s hand for a block or so until she got into the spirit of the evening. At that moment in time, she was more comfortable with me than her own father. Her dad was a good guy, but she had not yet got to know him as she knew me.
I’m not sure how my neighbor Ron felt about this incident because we never discussed it. He may have been shattered, as I would have been, or he may have taken it in stride, knowing how kids can be and understanding the consequences of his choices, which were to do the best for his family as he knew how. We are still friends and I’m happy to report that Ron did rise to the top of his field. Not only that, I see no apparent issues as he seems to enjoy an excellent relationship with his wife and all his children, which now number four.
What saved the relationship between this father and his daughter? I have a theory that consists of two parts. One part is that this was a good man, and as his daughter grew older, she could see that. The other part is having a mother who was a great partner to her husband. She kept things together, did not show any anger towards her husband’s goals and ambitions, and did not talk badly about her kids’ father.
I’m not sure I could have succeeded as a dad had I taken the path of my friend. On the other hand, I’m not sure my friend could have succeeded as a dad, being an average Joe at his occupation. His lack of satisfaction, income, or perceived failure may have made him uncomfortable to be around. His unhappiness, perhaps, would have shown through and impacted his relationship with his kids.
What it comes down to is this. There is no one way to be a good father. The amount of time you are physically present is just one factor. The real factor is ‘being there’ for them. Being there when they need you. Being there for important events. Being there when you need them. Sometimes this means being physically present, like a hug at the right moment, or a smile that says “I understand”. Sometimes it means an encouraging phone call, a note, a text, or even bail money! Hopefully, not the latter!
I know my neighbor has ‘been there’ for his daughter many times. He may have had a rocky start in the physically present area, but he recovered nicely.
Be there for your children! They can tell if you are or not, and it has little to do with where you are. But having said that, the most important time to be physically present with your children, if you can, is when they are very young!