The scheduling of being a full-time student has been tighter than I had ever expected now that I have added “father” to my list of roles played each day. Squeezing in work, school, family, and occasional sleep requires approximately five more hours than the 24 I have to work with.
I also have difficulty focusing at times as I stop to be astounded by the human becoming that is our beautiful little girl, running and talking (with a vocabulary that far exceeds her age, mind you) and telling Daddy and Mommy alike that she loves us. Just this afternoon as I arrived home from class she came running across our driveway to meet me, all grins and excitement at my homecoming. With commutes and various other complications factored in, though, most weeknights end with my having just enough time to have dinner with my wife and daughter and maybe an hour of playtime before putting that little angel to bed.
Something that I said before we even had our daughter…a responsibility that weighs heavily on my thoughts…is that it is non-negotiable for me, absolutely critical, that our daughter grow up feeling safe talking to me about anything, knowing that she can tell me anything, that I will never judge her, and that I will always be on her side. The depth of relationship I long to have with her by nature conflicts with my responsibility to provide a stable environment for her, because the latter involves a moderately successful career (and, thus, the school to make said career possible), which pulls me away from home.
How to reconcile these two important roles?
Sundays are the day that always give me time, and so I knew that would be part of the answer. And, one day, I was dreaming back to fond memories of our life in Virginia from only several months ago, and I remembered, one night when Karen was teaching her night class, taking our daughter with me to a nearby restaurant so that I could get a cheeseburger. She was, of course, far too young for anything but a bottle at the time, but we had great fun (and she managed to grab the attention of every waitress in the place…did I mention that she inherited her mother’s beauty?).
Then, I experienced a collision of ideas that results in inspiration. I needed to repeat such an excursion on a regular basis, and Sundays seemed to be free. And, since it only seems logical that I pass down my love of cookies to her (Karen affectionately refers to me as “cookie monster”), the obvious (and affordable) solution seemed to be cookies and milk.
Because, every child should love cookies and milk!
So, every Sunday afternoon for the past three months, I have announced to our daughter that we’re going for “cookies and milk!” She has began to jump for joy and repeat, in her adorably mis-pronounced way, “tooties and milt!” And, off we go to a coffee shop or some similar arrangement, where we split a cookie and have Daddy-daughter time.
Okay, there was an exception one weekend caused by an unexpected night of projectile vomiting, but that one notwithstanding….every Sunday.
My point with this isn’t just a routine or a ritual, though. When Karen and I were expecting, I had coffee with one of my spiritual leaders. He recalled his fear upon discovering that he and his wife were expecting their first, and he said that raising your child is a chance to correct many of the things that you’ve done wrong, to help your child not make those same mistakes. I’ve hurt those that I love by not being fully present because of the distractions of multiple responsibilities. I’m not proud of that. I want our daughter to know right up front that, whatever else is going on, Daddy will always carve out dedicated time for her. I also hope that, for the rest of her life until (and even after) she is an adult and makes her own way in this world from which I often desire so intensely to protect her, that, whatever is happening in her life, whatever troubles keep her awake or concerns that she carries, she will always be able have cookies and milk with Daddy and tell me anything. Anything. Because I want her to know that I will always listen, and that her Daddy always loves her and will make time for her.
I don’t know if this will take off, if she will grow to dislike cookies or milk (perish the thought, but it’s possible), or if it will survive the teenage years in which it will be less than cool to have a childhood snack with her father. Perhaps, even if it falls victim to such a fate, it will rebound later in life. The important thing, though, is not the snack itself, but the time. The more she talks, the more I will incline my ear to listen. And, one day, perhaps she will interrupt my work to tap me on the shoulder with a concerned look and say something to the effect of, “Daddy? I need to talk. Cookies and milk?”
At which point, life will stop and my attention will belong solely to her for whatever she needs. And, should she ever read this blog and perhaps this entry later in her life, then know, dearest, that you have my attention whenever you need it.
Because I never knew that I could love anyone this much, and this routine seems the most practical way to implement my desire for her to know that very thing.