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Lessons in Fatherhood from Two Teenage Girls and a Cat

A few years back, I wouldn’t have felt the need to explain that I’m not actually a father. I’ve learned a few things since then, though, so there you go: this is not a real story of fatherhood.

Steven Dale Chaffin III has not graced the earth, quite yet.

(Aside: I will not be naming my child after me.  I’m not living in medieval Europe.)

Years away from fatherhood as I might be, sometimes it feels like my children were born several years ago and, in some fluke of biology or the wrath of God, they have reached the same age as me.  Here are the things I’ve learned from my first years of pre-fatherhood, and how I might apply them to my life when I actually become ‘daddy’. 

Don’t expect them to act like they’re 30 when they’re 5.  Or 21 when they’re 18. 

Kelly Chen and Amy Shih are two great friends of mine, and with whom a good portion of my time is spent.  They often call me up and say “hey, let’s hangout!” and suggest such things as going to the mall, swimming, or going to Starbucks.  I’ve never had a good hangout idea in my entire life, so I always go along with it in fear of being asked what I would rather do.  

So, I get into my car and drive over to pick them up, because one has a car and no license, and the other has a license and no car.  Each time I am completely oblivious to what I’m getting myself into, and find myself astonished and off-guard when each of them are bouncing off the walls because they just saw “the cutest guy on earth”, and start discussing “how ugly so-and-so has gotten”.  This inspires a lot of thoughtless head-nodding on my part, and even more phone-checking.  

What do I expect?  Do I expect them to mention the article on multilingualism I read this morning, or the one on the humble proclivities of Pope Francis?  Even though I tweet most of my readings to my Twitter account, I know they don’t pay my postings a moment of their time because they frequently tell me how I tweet about “nothing”.  I might have an interest in those things, and I know there are girls out there who do (marry me), but in this modern culture of Instagram and Candy Crush 2, am I really that much of a blockhead to think they’re going to sit down and read an article on economic prospects in TIME magazine?

Instead of finding myself dumbfounded every time they go into crazy-teenage-girl-mode and throwing water at each other at the Zoo, maybe I should read that book on relationship advice Kelly keeps telling me about, or pick up a People magazine.  When you’re a dad, you get a free pass to act more like a kid.  Don’t be the guy who doesn’t play with his children.

“I don’t care about your schedule, feed me”, my cat never said.

If he could, he most certainly would.  My model of a cat is a fairly recent innovation in my life, and one that was initially unwelcome.  I had been terrified of cats for much of my life and thought to be mildly allergic, but one day I saw a box on my kitchen floor from which a small creature was emerging.  The pupils of his eyes were huge, his steps hesitant as he explored this new domain in hopes of not being returned as his previous owners had decided to do.

Formerly Goldfinger, Goldi has earned his place in the family and has in many ways kicked me out of the limelight.  As I get ready to go to college, my parents look to him to keep them company and satisfy their cute-buds.  Needless to say, the little guy has made me warm up to animals and I’m not sure what I’m going to do without the random toe-bites in the middle of the night.

Goldi has helped me realize that, when you’re taking care of someone, your own schedule doesn’t matter.  It might matter to you, but it’s completely irrelevant to the little guy dependent on you.  Maybe I need to write a blog post, pick up a friend, go to work, eat, shower, or workout, but none of that is an excuse to not tend to those who need you.  When my parents went out of town for a few days, I could have told my cat “you’re on your own this weekend” and written dozens of blog posts and held parties from dusk ‘till dawn.  As satisfying as all of that might have been, I would then have had a dead cat on my hands, and that would really ruin the vibe.

Owning a cat isn’t much like raising a child, I imagine.  Human beings are slightly more needy than most species, and require almost constant attention.  Nonetheless, it is important to remember that when you have a kid, or anyone dependent on you, it’s not their responsibility to need you less when you have other things to do--it’s your responsibility to bend your schedule and make sure you can take optimal care of them.

Being a dad, I’m sure, isn’t easy.  I admit that I know absolutely nothing about real fatherhood and I’ll probably suck at it for awhile before I get the hang of the whole raising a child concept.  True as that may be, there’s no reason I can’t look to my current experiences, to my crazy friends and sometimes too friendly cat, to help me be a better dad when it’s time for me to bear that title.

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