I used to not get Father’s Day. Even in the early days of finally being a dad, I didn’t quite understand it.
There’s the obvious reason: As far as the birthing process is concerned, the man’s job is pretty much the best and most enjoyable job. It lasts a night—though if we’re really honest, less than an hour.
There’s no nine months of dizzy spells, morning sickness, an unshakeable feeling of being bloated, hard-to-satisfy cravings, morning sickness, unrelenting fatigue and then even more morning sickness.
And at the end of nine months, you’re not the one being wheeled into an operating room and getting stuck with fat needles and then getting cut up.
And as if it were a cosmic prank, you get to hold your daughter first.
So, Mother’s Day, I understand. But Father’s Day?
In the first few months after Isay, my daughter, was born, there was none of the dreaded sleepless spells that people warn new parents about a lot.
Sure, I helped out a lot in hushing her to sleep when she woke up, changing her diapers regularly and giving her light baths before dressing her up. But I didn’t have to breastfeed Isay, so there was really little need to wake up in the middle of the night.
At one point, I told my wife, Jo Anne: “This parenting thing isn’t that difficult after all.”
And then she looked at me with round, sleepless eyes and frazzled hair and said: “Wait ’til my maternity leave is over.”
Yeah, that happened. At times, my hair would get frazzled, too. And my eyes would get heavy with absent sleep. But those were exceptions, not the rule.
And watching every superhuman thing that Jo did—still does—for our daughter kind of diminishes the need to celebrate fatherhood.
But as Isay grew up, even as my role in parenthood expanded to almost equal effort (I say almost because I still don’t breastfeed, so I don’t have to worry about teeth clamping hard on my nipples), I realized that maybe Father’s Day isn’t meant to be celebrated the way Mother’s Day is.
That thought hit me one night last year and resurfaced about a month ago, as I was lying awake at 3 a.m. in Chiang Mai in Thailand wondering why I couldn’t sleep.
It dawned on me that had I been at home, Isay would have woken up at about that time to pee, and it is usually me who carries her to her potty and wash her up after.
And then in a wave of homesickness, a highlight reel of our daily routine started playing in my mind. Isay never had a regular babysitter or yaya. Jo and I raise her hands on. I take care of Isay in the morning until the early afternoon and my wife subs for me from late afternoon to evening.
So: Daily baths. Vitamins. Poo and wee. Swim lessons. Playtime. Breakfasts. Lunches. That’s all on me.
But that’s not why I celebrate Father’s Day.
I celebrate Father’s Day for the times Isay leans on my shoulder and listens to records with me. I celebrate it for the car rides we go on, where we sing as loud as we can. I celebrate it for the strolls we take in parks or malls, when she holds my hands and pinches the soft part of my thumb.
I don’t treat Father’s Day as a thank-you day for what we do for our children. I treat Father’s Day as a thank-you day for Isay, for making me a dad to her, for asking to be hugged when something scares her or for a kiss on every boo-boo she gets.
Father’s Day is a celebration for all those times Isay looks at me with her round eyes and says “I love you, big fella.”
Because even in my darkest hours, when everything goes wrong and I end up beaten, worn out and empty at the end of the day, I always drive home with a smile on my face and an indescribable light in my heart. All because I am Isay’s dad.