My kids love chocolate milk. Love it. Life expectancy for a bottle of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup in our house doesn’t even register in minutes (it was Nestle Quick powder for me when I was a kid). I was watching the other day as Kendra performed the chocolate milk ballet, set to the sounds of Ethan blindly grasping for spoons in a drawer he can open but with contents he cannot see – refrigerator door open, lift milk, step-turn-spin-kick, door swings shut, step, dodge-running-child, hop-toy-raise-milk, catch falling glass (pause – whew!), step, turn, spin, rest. Then the pouring. Then comes the spoon, and the rhythmic, whirring, clicking process that pulls all that chocolate off the bottom and off the sides and makes one great treat from two good things that would otherwise exist separately.
It’s a hectic ritual at times… and it seems like the request for the treat often comes when I wish it wouldn’t. Either I just sat down, or I want to watch a game, or I am just “busy”… like I was at that particular moment. Busy doing something so important that I cannot recall what it was…and I watch them and see the contentment that results from a few seconds of inconvenience… and it makes me sick that I would ever allow selfishness like that to interfere with a moment of happiness for my kids. I get caught up in those moments of self contempt and guilt… when I’ve lost patience and responded unnecessarily in a raised voice… or when I’ve lingered too long when they’ve called out for me so they had to call out again. I destroy myself over those moments. Then, I gain comfort from two things. One: she never would. The second is more complicated.
I think about the child I was and the development of my life between then and now. I guess I always saw fatherhood as an inevitability, but never gave much thought to any detail around when or with whom, what kind of father I would be; none of that. I figured, my dad was around so I will be around. I like kids; kids like me. Simple. It will happen when it happens. But of course it isn’t that simple. Sometimes, when it happens, it’s just a guy and a baby… there’s no connection, there’s no obligation. Sometimes, when it happens, it’s cool for a while… you try real hard, but maybe you tell yourself you just aren’t cut out for it and the kid is better off without you. Sometimes everyone is to blame. Other times, no one is to blame. Sometimes, when it happens, it’s just milk and syrup… and chocolate milk doesn’t make itself.
For guys… for men, I believe there has to be a decision and a commitment he makes to himself to be a father…whether it is a father in a relationship, or a father on his own. That’s the spoon. The thing about the spoon is, you can’t do it halfway. If you stir it just a little the ingredients don’t mix. If you stir it some, but not long enough, the mixture separates and you are left with two independent ingredients again. You have to stir it fully, and make sure you scrape all the syrup from the bottom of the cup, and the globs that want to cling to the sides. You have to get it all, and commit fully in order to get it right. I remember the point at which I was prepared to be a father for all four of my boys and the commitment I made to do whatever necessary to be their light and shield… and I remember being very afraid. And I am still afraid. But I know I’m committed. And I know that when I fail them and when I fall down (and I will fail, and I will fall – and you will too) that there will be an opportunity for wisdom in all of it that I will have an opportunity to apply the next time.
So, what gives me comfort is this: when I go into the kitchen hours later and I see those half-full cups of chocolate milk… I still see chocolate milk.