here’s definitely a little hero-worship going on in our house lately. My boy is in a big time “daddy-phase”. And of course that’s the way it should be with 3-year-old boys. Daddies are supposed to be the super heroes in their little boys’ lives. Every waking moment while I’m at home it’s like he just can’t get enough of me. “Daddy, play with me. Daddy, push me on the swing. Daddy, let’s play baseball. Daddy, what are you doing? Daddy, I want you to wear your batman T-shirt. Daddy, come watch me go potty”. He’s definitely bonded, and it’s really sweet (if not a little maddening at times… it’s nice to be able to go to the bathroom without a 3-year-old banging on the door saying “are you done, Daddy? Are you done now? Now? Can you be done now, Daddy?”) And of course it makes sense. At 3 he’s developing gender identity. He wants to wrestle when his sister wants to have elaborate social dramas with her dolls. His mommy just doesn’t play light sabers the right way. After spending all day with his mother and his sister it makes sense that he would want to maximize his dude-time when I’m at home. All that is very normal. But beyond all that “normal” I’m starting to develop a sense of something “extraordinary” – something “special” happening. My son and I are becoming “buddies”.
I don’t use the word “buddies” lightly. That word has special meaning to me. When I was growing up it was the affectionate, familiar word that my dad (and his dad) used to address me. It was a males-only word that served to reinforce the familial male-to-male bond. It was a word reserved exclusively for us and, at least in my eyes, came to represent a bond that went beyond the strict definition of the word. It meant a shared experience, a common family responsibility, and a reinforcement of a special relationship that couldn’t be explained to anyone outside that relationship. I don’t think my father and grandfather engineered things that way; and maybe it was just my sense of the over-dramatic. But the effect was the same: “buddy” means something special. Through my life I have always reserved that word for special relationships and when I learned that we were having a boy, looking at that ultrasound, mind blown, mouth agape, “buddy” was the first word to come to mind.
Whether by design or by instinct that word and its enhanced meaning have clearly been passed on to my son. He uses the word quite deliberately now. When he says “Can we be buddies tomorrow?” he’s asking if we can hang out, just me and him. When we go to Starbucks on Saturday mornings to get coffee and scones he tells the person behind the counter “We’re buddies, me and Daddy. Just the two of us.” When we’re having a quiet snuggle-moment he says softly to me “I love you, Daddy. We’re buddies”. To my boundless joy my son clearly has a sense that he and I have a special relationship, and he does what he can as a 3-year-old to reinforce that relationship. To this day I still have that relationship with my father, and he and I do what we can as adults to sustain that special relationship. We have our special father/son time where and when we can and we both still hurt at the absence of his father (passed away more than 15 years ago now) from our exclusive club. Recently my son has made the connection across generations and referred to my father as “our other buddy”. For everything there is a season – turn, turn, turn.
Along those lines I made a startling observation this week. We were having one of our “buddy days”, staying out of the house as much as possible while my wife stayed at home with my boy’s sick older sister. We spent the whole day together, going to the aquarium, to the beach and to a restaurant for lunch. From over my shoulder in the minivan I heard him say “I had fun today Daddy, because we’re buddies”. It occurred to me that I could have said the exact same thing to him. I hadn’t had that much fun, just me and another guy, in a long time. That startled me. Let me digress a moment.
I’ll let you in on a little secret of fatherhood: it’s sort of lonely. Maybe this falls in the category of “too much information” but I really don’t have a lot of friends. I go to work all day where I’m the boss. As much as I like my (all female) staff, being the boss means you have to keep a professional separation that precludes forming any genuine “friendships”. I leave work and every single waking moment from the moment I get home to the moment the kids go to sleep is dedicated to being Daddy. Thirty minutes after the kids get down I’m fading myself, and before I know it I’m up again the next morning to do the same thing all over again. Where mommies have the opportunity to develop social relationships with other mommies WHILE they’re being mommies (mommies’ groups, play-dates, dance lessons, etc.), daddies don’t have that perk. Virtually 100% of my time is accounted for as either work/boss, or home/daddy. There simply isn’t time to cultivate friendships outside those boundaries. I certainly feel that loss, and it may change over time, but my family deserves everything I can give them outside my working hours. As pathetic as it makes me sound, the realities of my life are such that I simply don’t have any regular “friends” anymore (except my wife of course).
So driving down the freeway, when my son said “I had fun today Daddy, because we’re buddies”, I was left a little speechless when I realized that yes, in fact my son is my best guy friend. Believe me I realize how dysfunctional that sounds – that a 37-year-old’s best friend is his 3-year-old son. But here are the facts: We both are the primary other male in a world otherwise completely filled with females (I have an all-female staff at work, he primarily spends his time with his mother, grandmother and sister all day). We both like the same stuff (I have indoctrinated him quite deliberately, and quite well as demonstrated all throughout this blog). And we have the most awesome conversations now. “Daddy, are Dinobots Autobots or Decepticons? Are sharks reptiles or amphibians? Does Darth Vader like the rancor monster? Is Captain Jack Sparrow a good guy or a bad guy?” We play baseball in the backyard before dinner. We go to the comic book shop together. We wear matching t-shirts. We pee in the potty at the same time together (Gross, I know. But this is a father/son thing that goes back millennia, and across all cultures). Aside from my wife he is, for all intents and purposes, my best friend, and as creepy as it sounds, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Believe me, I know that the worst parents are the ones who try to be “friends” with their children, rather than “parents”. I don’t think I have that problem. Parenting comes first in my mind. And of course he’s going to have to develop his own social relationships that will no doubt take shape in the coming years as he gets more established in pre-school and later grade school. There will be times when I’ll have to take a hard line as his father, when we’ll butt heads, and when he “hates” me. If my relationship with him is anything like my relationship with my father, those times should pass as he moves into adulthood, and what remains will be the closeness; the friendship. But for the time being, he and I have an emotional connection that comes from shared experience. I look forward to spending time with him, and when the prospect of a dude-centered special experience comes around, he is the first person I think of sharing it with. In the absence of anyone else in my life fitting that same description, that makes him my best guy-friend. And you know what? As long as I’m his parent first and his best friend second, I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.