How My Husband Taught Me To Take A Parenting Chill Pill

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My husband's instinctive, relaxed parenting style has always inspired and influenced me.

The movie was a romantic comedy—perfect for my first real date with Frank away from our mixed group of friends—but the question he asked afterward was serious.

"So, you want kids, right?"

Gulp.

I flung back, half-laughing, "Sure, but not tonight, okay?"

Truth was, his question didn't surprise me. We were in our late 20s, from traditional backgrounds, and our best friends, who were married to one another, had already confided that one reason Frank's previous marriage had broken up was this very question. Our Untraditional Marriage: My Husband Cooks And I Watch Sports

So we had kids—the first arriving eight years later, after three years of infertility, during which I came close to giving up. Frank never did. After which I worked my way through severe postpartum depression, and felt then (and still do) that I may not have survived were Frank not the terrific father I had long suspected he'd be. When I could barely conceive the meaning of motherhood, Frank slipped seamlessly into fatherhood, showing me what was possible.

I'm not talking about shouldering an equal load of diapers, bottles and wiping baby vomit—though he did that. I'm not even talking about nighttime feedings and rocking a colicky baby for two hours when he had to be up for work at 6 a.m. How My Husband And Kids Inspired Me To Love Memorial Day

I'm talking about being a father from the first moment, without faking a thing. While I needed months to figure out the motherhood thing, Frank got it—instantly. At 12:59 one snowy night, he was an expectant father, and when his son was born at 1:01, Frank stepped unhesitatingly into fatherhood. Seventeen years later, Frank is still fathering by instinct, still pretty terrific. He's just plain good at his job, maybe because he doesn't really think of it as a job.

When our first son was only two weeks old, I complained to my cheerful husband, who was as sleep-deprived as I, "How can you be so up?"

He just shrugged. "Easy. I'm loving it."

I believed him and envied his effortless ease. I still believe him, though the intervening years of raising two sons, rough spots and all, has somewhat tempered his nonchalance.

The first time my husband was not completely confident as a father startled me. When one preschool son required specialized treatment, Frank lived in denial far longer than I'd have predicted. By then, I'd become a fierce mother-advocate, and charged on, resentful that Frank was holding on to his rose-colored lenses.

As the boys have grown, their doting Dad has changed too, in ways both wonderful and, occasionally, not. Frank's not keen on attending to the future—like planning for college—yet he is the resident expert in being present in the moment, every week night and all weekend long; he's the baseball and basketball coach, the Scout leader, the Dad who chaperones class trips and organizes the fundraiser, leads 25-mile bike rides, keeps time at cello practice, and the guy who will drive 20 miles to see a new action movie in Imax 3D on release day. Father's Day Gift Guide: Ideas For All The Dads In Your Life

Yet when I entered graduate school and relaunched a career, the kind of involvement I needed from Frank clashed with his self-styled role as the fun, playful Dad. Dishing out discipline had never been his forte, but I needed Frank to sometimes be the bad guy! He needed to be willing for the boys to growl under their breath at him (not me) about how much they hate something he's made them do (or not do). I think it's perfectly healthy for kids to occasionally hate both parents equally, but Frank wants to be liked, always.

That's why he'll drive a kid back to school to retrieve a forgotten textbook, when I prefer to let the kid show up without homework and deal with the consequences. Then again, I'm glad Frank's stubborn optimism wins out when he pushes one kid to try to go get something he wants—winning a school election, qualifying for a scout advancement—while I try to shield the boy from disappointment.

Overall, like every parent, my husband has gotten better at this fatherhood thing over time, even though he was pretty damn good from the start. We brought our first son home from the hospital on a Saturday, and on Sunday, there were Dad and baby on the couch, Frank moving his son's tiny arms in the universal signal for touchdown.

"You can't watch the whole Giants game with him on your lap," I'd said, worried about doing everything the "right way."

"Watch me," he replied.

I've been watching, for a long time now and I'd take those rose-colored glasses.

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