I am an introvert. So, while traveling through Europe with my wife & our three-year old was a life-changing experience, it taught me that being a father requires me to put aside my own needs in favor of my son’s.
Travel days were the worst. I carried a huge backpack for the bus/taxi/train/subway/bus trip from Venice to Rome. Throw in Ryan & his stroller & I took up three times the space of a normal human. As I smushed into a crowded train, dislodging innocent Italians, I could here them thinking, “American jacka$$! Fitting considering my load.
When we finally arrived in Rome, I ached everywhere. As our final bus approached, I imagined the pleasure of taking off my shoes & extricating myself from this wonderful urchin who had begun squeezing my cheeks with his fruit snack-stained fingers.
“Bub, Daddy’s tired. I can hold you, but please stop poking my face,” I pleaded as we settled ourselves in a corner of an empty bus. But it wasn’t to stay empty for long. A bus is never actually full. Even when all the seats are taken, when each h&hold is grasped by many fists, & when all windows have fogged up with exhaled humanity, you can still fit ten more people on a bus–easy. Within a few stops, my arms were pinioned to my sides; I had an Italian pressed against every inch of my body. My gigantic backpack was so compressed against an elderly gentleman’s face I believe the word “Jansport” is now permanently imprinted on his cheek. I was an introvert all out of energy; I needed to get away to recharge, yet I could barely even move. & all the while, Ryan poked my face.
“Ryan, stop it!” I hissed. (poke, poke poke, poke poke poke) “If you don’t stop it, I’ll…” (poke, poke) “Aargh, stop it!” (poke, poke, poke). I lost it! With my hands trapped at my sides, I did the only thing I could think of to stop the poking. I bit my beautiful, intelligent boy right on the cheek. Not an I-love-you-&-am-going-to-eat-you-up bite, but a chomp intended to inflict pain & remove flesh. Tears, screams, glares from strangers, curses in Italian, & instant remorse!
We recognize and reject the hypocrisy in the patriarchal aphorism, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Our identities are built on the examples of men in our young lives. That bus in Rome, that heavy backpack, that crush of humanity, those grubby fingers pressed into my face remind me to control the example I set, especially when I’m out of energy.