"Bricks" A Father's Day Guest Post

First, I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Father's Day! Today, the Lunchbox has a special treat: a guest post from Brian of The Cheek of God. If you've not familiar with Brian, then you are missing out. I highly recommend you add him to your reader (and after reading his post today, I'm sure you will). Amid the ever growing sea of dad bloggers out there, Brian is among the best in my opinion. Rarely will you find a voice more genuine and honest. Brian's writing has a compelling quality about it that draws you in and makes you feel exactly what he's feeling. In this guest post, you will experience this firsthand as Brian puts into perspective our failures and roles as fathers.


Somehow I became the lag man. The one chosen by the Family Adventure gods to walk behind those that like to run ahead and instead keep time with, and track of, those that tend to lag behind.
I’m with the family at Six Flags Great America just north of Chicago for a late-summer rendezvous with my in-laws and an assortment of nieces and nephews. We’ve had our carbohydrate-heavy continental breakfast, have driven the .645 miles across the road from our hotel to the massive parking lot, and have already ridden our first attraction, an octopus-like purple contraption upon which our bodies, and breakfast, have been thoroughly shaken and stirred. There was laughing, giggling, some noxious belching, and a bit of frantic screaming.

Mission accomplished.

And so we’re walking down the midway, off toward the Next Big Thing up and around the bend, when I look back and notice my youngest son Ethan has been sidetracked by a carnie. I glance ahead to get a sense of the direction where the front of the procession is heading, and then turn on my heels and jog back to the ball toss stand where my son has fished out his dollar bills and is slapping them down. How cute! What growing boy wouldn’t want a . . . giant stuffed Tweety Bird? Um. Yeah. But there he is, tossing another ball at a tilted board off of which he is to ricochet said ball into an awaiting basket. It is a classic setup that required a certain amount of skill. I’ll just step in, do my dad thing, and explain the physics of it all. Show him a thing or two. Only he isn’t paying attention to me. He’s just pulling out dollars . . . and glancing over his own shoulder. Must be afraid they’ll get too far ahead and have all the fun without him. Aww. How cute! Only he seems anxious. Excited.

And about to cry.

I catch on after a few bucks, look back, and notice my youngest daughter Zoe, lingering a bit behind the group, staring at us. Her face is only slighter calmer now compared to how it had appeared on the octopus ride. The screaming? Her. And her favorite stuffed animal? The one she hugs tightly when life overwhelms her? Back at the motel. She looks more than a bit lost without it. And it hits me like the proverbial brick in the head:

He’s trying to win a Tweety for his baby sister.

I loaned him a few bucks when his started getting low. Even tried a few tosses myself. We didn’t win, but we fought the fight. For his sister. For my daughter. We left the ball toss stand empty handed, but he ran ahead and grabbed hers. I walked just behind them and smiled.
These are the good days.

Bad days?

A note. Found lying on the kitchen floor. Smudged pencil scrawled on a small crumpled slip of paper. It began . . .

I feel so stupid and worthless.

The penmanship unmistakably my oldest daughter’s, but the words so . . . not her. Not the smiling and intelligent and beautiful daughter we encounter most days, anyway. She’s a teenager. She has her ups and downs. But this?

I feel stupid and ugly and pathetic!

I literally gasped.

Some time later, I read this:

“Often the one child who is softer than the rest, who is more sensitive than the family is used to, is the one selected to deal with what no one else will deal with.”

That brick I mentioned earlier?


How many times have I belittled myself in front of my children? Lamented the poor choices I’ve made? Apologized for being a subpar father? And turned away from them when they offered words of adoration and love?

What oftentimes seems like honest accounting is nothing more than begging the pity party. And worse is when the load shifts onto the shoulders of children.


There has been much written lately about dadbloggers. Who they are. What it takes to be a good one. So on and so forth. I have purposely avoided most of it, because it was about the time the conversations and debates started heating up that I felt those bricks. The ones that have reminded me time and again that I am far from having this dad thing figured out. At least not to the point where I can be so bold as to share my notions with the World Wide Web.

So I stopped blogging. Refused to process these things through that blog lens we all wear. The one we use to shape each and every little thing into a series of words and images that are supposed to neatly wrap up for the waiting horde this thing called Fatherhood. That’s how some dadblogs come across, unfortunately. Whether intentional or not, there are a lot of dudes who believe they have boiled being a dad down to a science. Sure we get the good shit every once in a while, the stuff of wide-eyed wonder and salty tears, but it gets lost amidst the pitches for products or services we don’t need. Stuff that they got for free. And the never-ending barrage of “Please RT!!!!” or “Like my page!!!” or “Last chance to enter!!!”

Ad infinitum.

Ad nauseum.

I saw myself, becoming that. So I stepped away, zipped my lip, and sought to recapture for myself the answer to the question . . .

Where is the mystery?

My kids? In a big picture sense, they are THE mystery. Oh, I still try on occasion to step up to the plate and show them how to swing for the bleachers. But my back is stiff. My knees hurt. And I just make it all look so silly.

Much like Fred Waitzkin did in this scene from Searching for Bobby Fischer . . .

Seven Moves from tysdaddy on Vimeo.

Did you catch those looks on daddy’s face? There’s the first one, where he’s all up on his high horse putting little Josh down for losing to “that patzer.” His chest all puffed out, like, “I’m spitting fucking gold nuggets here!!” And then that other look. When Josh throws that brick and hits him square in the face. Daddy’s speechless. Shut down. Gasping for breath.

More than just that scene, the movie resonates with me on so many wider levels. Like how we as dads often see ourselves bringing up our kids to do certain things or like this or that simply because we want them to. This is only natural. They are blank slates, right? And it is our prerogative to train them up however we see fit, following a plan best built upon the bedrock of personal experience or pleasure. By doing so, maybe they’ll do it all better than we did. Deep down, we want them to find what has eluded us. Or perhaps need them to, as Fred Waitzkin echoes in his book that inspired the movie . . .

“For some fathers and mothers, passion for their child’s success has become so gargantuan that the kid’s own predilections have been subsumed by their needs.”

This won’t make much sense to those of you with small children, but if you’ve got t(w)eenagers like me, you’d be the ones nodding your heads right about now. We fashion a dim reflection in them of what we want them to be, and then have the nerve to turn our backs on them when they show some genuine spark in another area of interest. What is ultimately just another facet of this blindingly beautiful gem called life appears unfamiliar to us, and we foolishly throw up our hands, recoiling in what is meant to be the light of discovery. For them. And us.

They grow up so fast, many people told me, and I’m starting to believe them. And I am at my best as a father when I choose to remember that children live, as Dylan Thomas put it in his poem Fern Hill, “once below a time.” Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian theologian and writer, introduced me to this poem, and particularly to this turn of a phrase, in his book The Sacred Journey, where he writes, “It is by its quality rather than its duration that a child knows time.” For a child, all time is “now time and apparently endless.”

And we are placed into this most sensitive of spaces. We walk with them, ceaselessly counting their steps even as they bound ever onward, eyes up and ablaze, with no signs of slowing down. Or letting us catch up. Leaving us dads to lag behind.

If we’ve done this thing right, if we choose to pay attention when it counts, and to be always mindful, then we won’t lose sight of them. And the view will leave us gasping . . .


You can follow Brian on Twitter at @TheCheekofGod

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