I had a discussion tonight with my middle daughter, Hannah, about responsibilities and how things really worked in our household. Not a bad conversation, but an effort to get the record straight for her. It all started with what I think she believed was a throwaway statement.
“Well…I just figured things at school, like Homecoming and dances and stuff would have to not happen because I have to watch the boys.”
I kind of stared at her, a little dumbfounded.
“Why would you have to skip sporting events or homecoming or any of that?”
“Well, I don’t know anybody anyway so it’s not really a big deal, Dad.”
I stared at her again, this time a bit sternly.
“It’s only September, Hannah, and you already know some people. I know I am meeting some guys to play some guitar tonight, but you’re babysitting the boys, not mothering them.”
Hannah looked at me a little sheepishly.
“Hannah, I’m going to tell you the exact same things I told your older sister right after your Mom passed away. You are Noah and Sam’s sister, you’re not their Mom. I don’t expect you to be their Mom and I don’t ask you to be their Mom. Do you understand that?”
Hannah nodded. It was important to me that she understand.
Ever since Andrea passed away there’s been a small (not large, very small in fact) contingent that assumed, quite unreasonably, that I’d rely very heavily on my daughters to take on a sort of “motherly” role and basically – for lack of a better phrase – become the Mom of the house. Now, they don’t expect the girls to become “Mom” they aren’t in charge, but to take on the assumed female role in the household.
I, however, was bound and determined for that not to happen in my house.
Abbi was 16 when her Mom passed. Hannah was about to turn 12. It was important to me that they still be teenagers. I had seen people who were forced to take on the role when their fathers couldn’t muster the necessary faculties to take on the roles of Dad and Mom. I wasn’t going to be that person. In fact, I hadn’t been for awhile. While Andrea, my wife, was sick the years prior, I had literally done everything but the laundry in the home. Andrea wasn’t incapacitated, but emotionally and physically she was unable to care for everything. I took on a much greater role.
The funny thing is, as much as I saw it a burden when I was married – not that I took it out on her or anyone, it was one you had to shoulder as a Dad and husband – it became a responsibility I gladly shouldered when Andrea was gone. So the idea that Abbi or Hannah was cooking dinners, doing laundry, the Cinderella of the house, was about as far from the truth as you could get.
Don’t take that to mean I didn’t or don’t rely on them. We all have our chores. Abbi was tremendously helpful in getting Hannah used to doing makeup and dressing like a girl, not a tomboy, and how to deal with her period because…let’s face it, Dad isn’t the person you necessarily want to talk with about your period. But she’s comfortable enough to have the discussion now if she needs medicine, tampons, pads, or what have you. I’m both parents now, I go to the store and buy those as readily as razor blades and shaving cream.
“Hannah, your Mom passed away and I’ve done everything I can to make sure you can be you. I cook, I clean – even the bathrooms, which you are just as responsible for making disgusting as your brothers.” She looked at her feet. “But to say you can’t do things because you have to watch your brothers is simply wrong. If you want to go to Homecoming, you can go. I have the job I have so that I can come home and let you go, drive you, pick you up, all of that. If you need a dress we’ll get one. I will find ways to make all of that happen.”
“But Dad, I don’t really know anybody. And what if I want to start a band. I don’t have time.”
“I’m home by early evening. We have a garage. The boys would listen as you rehearsed. Is that really the issue?”
I looked at her knowingly and she blushed a little.
“Or are you coming up with excuses to not do things so you don’t have to put in the effort…because it’s hard?”
She blushed a little more.
“I know it’s hard, Hannah, but if I’d never joined my first band…if I’d never started my own band I’d have never recorded. If I’d never asked your Mom out I’d never have been married. I wouldn’t have you. Everything takes effort. It’s all in how much effort you want to put into it.”
Hannah looked at me and smiled. “I don’t think I have to be Mom, Dad.”
“I’m not totally screwing you up yet, am I?” I asked hoping for the answer I eventually got.
“No…not at all! I love you Daddy.”
She kissed me on the cheek and went upstairs to play her guitar.