ome of the challenges a daddy faces are entirely of his own making. It’s jack-o-lantern season and for a ritual that is supposed to be all fun and smiles, I’m suddenly feeling the pressure to perform. How did it come to this? How did this turn into a referendum on the totality of my skills as a father? As I look back I really have nobody to blame but myself.
It started out innocently enough. It was 2008 and my daughter was just old enough to appreciate Halloween and jack-o-lanterns. Her baby brother was just born, Disney princesses were the be-all-and-end-all of her existence and in fact we were planning a trip to Disneyland in a month’s time. I wanted to do something a little special for her jack-o-lantern – after all she wasn’t old enough to carve one herself, and her new brother took up a lot of her parents’ attention in the past few months. So I sat down and was proud to make the following Halloween offering to my little princess (the precedent was set):
The next year rolled around quickly enough. The little brother was older, talking now (his 8th word was “Batman”… one of my crowning Dorkdaddy achievements), and attentive enough to put his hand in the squishy pumpkin to “help”. My daughter was more sophisticated, but princesses still reigned supreme in her neighborhood of make-believe. A trip to the pumpkin patch that year (when did pumpkin patches become AMUSEMENT PARKS?!) revealed a stack of pumpkins called “Cinderella pumpkins”. It didn’t take much to connect the creativity dots. So along with a jack-o-lantern of the only thing my infant son could recognize, I spent a good amount of time putting together this gem for my little girl (the precedent became a pattern):
The following year we made another trip to Disneyland, this time during Halloween itself. We actually trick-or-treated in the park itself (not recommended by the way). We were all amped up on corporate Disney imagery. My daughter had made a cultural shift away from princesses and towards Tinkerbelle. My son LOVED the Haunted Mansion converted to “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. So it was going to be another Disney-esque jack-o-lantern year. What I didn’t plan on was the fact that my daughter remembered the previous two years’ offerings, and requested… nay, EXPECTED something of the same ilk that year. I was up to the challenge:
This year is another story. My girl is 5. My boy is 3. Another baby is on the way. My wife and I haven’t been out on a date in longer than either of us can remember. Chaos is the status-quo and in the past 12 months the home-dynamics have evolved to a state that makes organizing a coherent thought nearly impossible for an adult. We (my wife and I) are in an epic battle to maintain our mental sanity. It’s a natural, predictable stage in the evolution of a parent. This too shall pass and morph into something more exhausting and challenging. In the meanwhile, Halloween is upon us again – and the kids are looking to Daddy to bring the goods. Only this year I’ve got TWO kids that expect “awesome”, and the family-dynamics are such that I’m lucky if I’m able to get out of the door in the morning with two matching socks. Disney’s influence over my daughter is ebbing, but not gone entirely. Meanwhile my son has assimilated himself into all things “dinosaur”. The pressure’s on. Don’t bother coming home if you bring us anything less than you did last year Daddy. You’d better be up to the task. So today, during my day off, I dug down deep and managed to produce this year’s offering:
I’m locked in a vicious cycle now. Every year I have to top (or at least match) the year before, and I’m running out of ideas.
I can joke that the pressure is coming from my children demanding an ever greater performance from their father. But the truth is I love it, and I put it on myself. My kids probably couldn’t care less. But I like putting that extra “umph” into being a daddy. I want to be the dad that adds a little extra magic in his kids’ lives. As self-serving as it may sound, when my kids are engaged in a competition of who’s-daddy-is-the coolest on their playground, I know my kids probably won’t win, but I at least want them to get an honorable-mention.
I’ll keep putting that extra “umph”, injecting that extra little magic into everything I do as a father, because there’s nothing in this world I enjoy more than being their dad… even if that means I’m going to have to sculpt Rodin’s “The Thinker” in a pumpkin by the time my daughter is 18.