Matt Archbold graduated from Saint Joseph’s University in 1995. He is a former journalist who left the newspaper business to raise his five children. He writes for the Creative Minority Report.
I’m used to being the only Dad wherever I go in a sea of Moms. A few days ago I was at my daughter’s basketball game. I sat with my other four children in the bleachers cheering my daughter near a few other Moms. I was near them but not with them. There’s a difference. After all these years I’m still seen as kind of separate from the Moms. And make no mistake I’m OK with that. I don’t chit or chat easily and when asked to do both together, it usually ends badly. After some years of study I’m accepting of the fact that Moms and Dads are just different.
I’m still unable to understand the ability women have of spelunking so quickly into the depths of each other’s lives so quickly, telling each other things I wouldn’t speak of if I was alone in a room. But that’s what they do. I keep score of the game, which is pretty easy considering half the kids couldn’t reach the rim with the ball so the score was in a manageable single digits. I didn’t have to carry the one or nothing.
Some of these girls are so nice that one girl actually handed the rebound to an opposing player because she really seemed to want it. But effort? These girls had effort. Running up and down the court like gazelles which is easier when you forget to dribble. But then something happened that stopped the game dead. A little girl heaved the ball up and it didn’t just miss the rim and the backboard. It missed the court. The ball rolled and rolled away from the pack of girls who chased it until…it rolled into the boy’s bathroom. And they stopped. An impasse. They all simply stared at each other dumbfounded. What to do? Here was a situation there’d been no practice for. No playbook. The girls looked at their Mom coaches and the women in the bleachers who simply stared back. The ball might as well have rolled off the end of the Earth.
This was a job for a man. I stood up. Not too proudly. I took my son by the hand and we walked across the court like heroes off to face the monster. We went to the edge of the doorway and I dispatched my son in. This was a gift I could bestow upon him. I could allow him to be the conquering hero and I would stand proudly by his side as his father.
He ran into the boy’s room. And emerged holding it up like a trophy. The Moms cheered him and my son bowed. He actually bowed. And then the women went back to talking about doctor’s diagnoses, intimate heartbreaks, and uncertain futures. I bought my kids hot dogs and cheered when one girl’s shot nearly hit the backboard.
As this story is an example of, there are things that only Dads can do.
I think boys need someone to teach them that getting hit ain’t the worst thing in the world but an unwillingness to ever get hit might be.
Someone has to teach sons how to go to the bathroom. There are things Moms just don’t know about. Tricks. How to course correct. There’s a lot more to it than you think.
Someone needs to explain to a son why the number 714 means something. And explain why Barry Bonds doesn’t.
And then there’s teaching sons boys to treat girls. A Mom can tell a son how they want to be treated but watching a Dad treat a Mom every single day, day in and day out, with respect and love is still the best way.
And let’s face it, little girls learn how they should be treated by the way their father treats them. That’s a heavy load when you think about it. And I often do. Girls aren’t so desperate to run away to the first person who tells them they love them when there’s a man who’s told them he loves them every day of their lives and has proved it every single one of them.
As you might have heard, teenage girls get all sorts of moody. They want hugs one second and storm up the stairs the next but Dads must stay the same. And I don’t care what you say, I think they want a Dad that makes them come down the stairs and walk up them again THIS TIME WITHOUT STOMPING. I think that kind of thing tells them that you love them whether they’re hugging or stomping.
And there doesn’t seem to be a much better moment in a little girl’s week than hearing from her Dad on Sunday morning that she looks pretty. Not cute. Pretty. There’s a difference. And they know it.
A family needs a threat. You don’t even have to make good on it all that often. Most times the threat is all you need.
And then there’s the bugs. Someone’s got to kill the bugs. Let me be clear, I’m not talking about the little flitty ones. I’m talking about the ones that look big enough to ride the big roller coaster at the church fair. I’m talking about the ones that could shave but don’t because they think it makes ‘em look tough. The ones that look like they might just try to squish you before you squish them. Yeah those. I’m not saying Moms can’t squish them but I think Moms sure like knowing they don’t have to.
I believe children want to be lifted up and tossed around a little bit. A lot some days. They want to be held above their Dad’s head or dangled from an ankle. Don’t know why. They just do. Sometimes they want to be tickled until they beg for mercy and then they want you to do it again when they catch their breath. I’ve found that homes where giggling and squealing are predominant are happy ones. I’m not a scientist but that just feels right.
I think kids feel love, comfort and sympathy with Moms. They feel safe next to their Dads. There’s just something about leaning on someone that you couldn’t move if you had a running start and all day to try that makes you feel safe.
I think it’s important for little girls to know that their Dad said, “I do” and he actually did.
And then there’s praying. There’s just something about kids seeing the strongest thing they know on this Earth go to his knees that tells them just about everything they need to know.