This is the story of my worst day as a father, the day I felt like a complete failure of a dad.
It was a Saturday in early July, shortly after we had moved into our new home. As was often the case, Olive and I decided we would split the parenting duties for the day. She would watch Allie in the morning while I unpacked the house. And I would watch Allie in the afternoon while she unpacked the house.
The morning came and went without anything unusual happening. I did a bit of unpacking, but I wish I had done more. We had been living in our new place for three weeks already and there were still boxes everywhere. It was driving me nuts that our place was a mess.
Allie couldn’t do too much at this time besides roll over from time to time, but she only rolled sporadically. I could place her down somewhere for a while, do some house chores while watching her, and she wouldn’t go anywhere. It was actually quite handy.
Except something did happen this particular afternoon.
Feeling a bit bored of just watching Allie and wanting to be productive, I placed Allie down in the middle of our bed and started unpacking some boxes of books. It was harder for her to flip over on a soft surface, and our bed was quite big. There was a lot of room for her to turn and yet not fall. Plus, I was close by and would stop her from rolling off the bed – or so I thought.
Now our bed is fairly tall, 28 inches to be exact. Allie was only about 24 inches tall. Her falling off our bed is the equivalent of me falling off the 2nd story of a house.
So there I was, taking books out of the boxes (ironically it was books on how to be a good parent) and placing them onto our shelf. I was feeling pretty good about being able to multi-task – watch Allie AND unpack. I was so productive. And proud of myself. I should get an award of some sort.
Then all of sudden I heard a heavy thud behind me.
There was the slightest moment of silence after the noise as my mind raced through the possibilities of what might have happened.
The cry that came out of Allie was loud and sharp, like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Worse than when she got her immunization shots. Worse than when she was being held by a stranger. Worse than the time we dressed her up in the cute bear suit that didn’t quite fit her.
I rushed over to my wailing daughter, shocked at how fast she had rolled off the bed. I had just looked away for a few moments – how could this have happened?
Tears were streaming down her little chubby cheeks. I picked her up but she was inconsolable. Then Olive rushed into the room.
“What happened??” she asked me.
“She fell off the bed,” I answered sheepishly.
Olive gave me a look, a look that said “How could you let this happen to our one and only daughter?”
She quickly took the crying Allie from my arms and whisked her away from her dangerous and reckless father.
And I was left alone standing there. Shocked. Trying to process what just happened. Feeling guilty. Very guilty. The guilt felt like a heavy knot in my stomach mixed with a sour taste in the back of my mouth. My head felt dizzy and my throat felt tight.
I felt like a failure.
I had failed as a father. Failed in protecting my daughter. Failed at keeping her safe. That was my job as a father. It was so simple. But no, I had to do my own thing and be productive. What for? To feel better about myself?
What was worse in that moment was that I could not console my daughter. I had done something to hurt her, but I was helpless in comforting her. Her mother, the more responsible parent, had taken her away from me, the stupid and selfish parent.
I’ve thought about this moment many times since. This was the first time I truly felt like a failure as a father, and I didn’t know how to handle it. I apologized to Allie afterwards, but how could she understand? She wouldn’t remember this moment and how I failed her. But I remembered. The memory was very clear.
We all fail as parents, in one way or another. As much as I hope to be the best parent possible, there is no way I will be perfect. This is just the beginning of many mistakes I will make as a father. So should I lower my expectations of myself? Should I just shrug off my failures? How do we as parents respond when we make mistakes and let our children down?
Before my daughter was born I feared I might be a lousy father. Those fears are coming true. In the journey of parenthood, I will have many opportunities to learn how to respond to failure, disappointment, and guilt (more thoughts on this next week). And most importantly, I will be challenged to learn how to forgive myself.
Have you ever felt like a failure as a parent? What happened and how did you respond?
photo credit: Scott Ableman via photo pin cc photo credit: tacit requiem (joanneQEscober ) via photo pin cc