The wheels squeaked on the cart, boosting my kid sister I placed her in the front part kids sit in. Five years old, happy to have someone who could lift her high. I was fifteen when we went to a random grocery store in Scranton PA, but I'll never forget the trolling she pulled on me.
I'm the oldest of three, my youngest sister is ten years (almost to the day) younger than me. In millennial terms we are effectively different generations.
As I pushed my sister through the produce isle me and her were being silly, the way we always were growing up. My mom walked away to get something and a mother and daughter walked up and commented politely..
Before I could say no, my sister started yelling "Daddy! Daddy!". I remember giving her a look and we went on about our day, telling my parents who also thought she was being funny. Even at 5, trolling me to make a liar of me.
I remember that moment as the first time I knew I wanted to be a dad. The title , the responsibility , it was from that moment on that it held so much weight to me. It seemed a bit heavy, even for that time, to want that responsibility; to know that it was to be part of my future.
I mean, I am the oldest in my family, oldest grandchild, and was the only boy on both sides for 16 years. I was used to helping corral everyone or not having anyone into the same things as me or the little kids needing picked up.
Even before my first was born I remember saying to myself I can fail at everything, hockey, my job, anything else.. but not at being a parent. Being their dad is, and always has been, something I take with the utmost seriousness. They are what I've wanted, these moments I get to live in, these golden drops of happiness we create together on the daily.
I remember how close we were growing up with that gap, that caretaker, trolling about being Dad relationship. I remember dating a girl in high school and how my little sister got attached to her.
Children imprint on many people around that age (this would have been six at that time). I remember her asking if she could come over to play, or if she could take her to the park (which she did... without me,..lol). It was like she gained a friend too. I remember us discussing at the time how important this relationship was... referencing her and my sister.
It was around this time I really got into Everclear (the band) and they were on the radio all the time. I got their CD called Learning How to Smile and just eating the songs up. But one in particular has always stayed with me for how it cuts me to ribbons emotionally called Annabella's Song.
It's why my wife says she's glad we don't have girls. Because of how I get around babies, how I fall back into that "Daddy! Daddy!" in the grocery store mode and that they'd get anything they wanted. Well, I'm that way because of those memories and probably a lot because of that song.
I didn't have a great college experience.. things fell apart and I was in the midst of a pretty deep depression at the time, and going for a walk late one night just needing to clear my head. I busted out my Dell DJ Ditty MP3 player (old skool) that had that song on it, putting it on repeat and just slowly walking into the night, a puddle the whole way.
I remember staring up at the moon, heart broken at the time because of a failed relationship.. and playing this song as loud as I could and just crying the whole walk. I couldn't stop listening to it. The idea that I was away from my kid during the year, that I was growing up, and that she would be hurt by my girlfriend not being in her life. By my not being in her life much of the year aside from short phone calls or breaks from school..
I see now how insane it all sounds. The rationalizing of a child about what's important, what will impact others..
I only setup these things because a little girl.. a rambunctious, awesome, adorable, funny three year old who just wants me "To hold you up above the world".. cut me to shreds.
Who knew. With all my walls, my locks and doors, my sarcasm (crutch), and abrasiveness (fake)... that I could be defeated by a three year old. I spent years perfecting this firmware, to hide away how I really feel. To joke about everything, even things that should matter (because it's easier to laugh then address reality)... all that work... to be left in a puddle by a child.
I love playing with kids and they seem to enjoy me. I mean what's not to enjoy? I usually have stupid hats on, or jerseys, or being really tall and generally goofy looking.
Whatever it is, there's something that's got to make me stand out as a "mark" for paying more attention to kids than adults. Kids are just pure joy. There's no deeply broken emotions to unpack, they see the best in everyone and live in a crystal fantasy version of the reality so many others actually have to experience. They are everything that keeps us going.
Anyway, the three year old that destroyed me is my best friend's daughter. She asks me to help her touch the ceiling when I see her. After all, her house has tall ceilings and I'm a glorified step ladder wearing a Disney hat (no really).
So... obviously ladder + silly person = I touch the ceiling over and over again.
I always stick her on the ceiling or a wall or whatever; more or less till I'm the one tired cause three year olds have boundless energy from pulling it directly out of the air and infectious laughing that power them until they crash hard.
I don't see her often (handful of times really) but she gets pumped when she hears I'm coming (cause tall ladder man) and is excited by the idea of having someone that can stick her on a ceiling (I was shown around the princess fort last time though as a detour. Poor insulation and I have to lay on the floor in order to look in but I'd give it a decent yelp rating).
But as this is unpacking, and if the last week is any indicator, I'll be unpacking a lot,.. these have to relate some how. We were playing (more like I'm running away and she's chasing me in circles over and over again). I'm getting fake tired of this to suprise her that much more when I still put her on the ceiling.
She gets too excited in the moment and says "Daddy pick me up daddy!"
Puddle of emotions come flooding in..
As well as a grimice.. cause beyond me not being Daddy... Daddy's not in the picture. Her mom freezes, I freeze.. I say "So who are you then".
"The big sister"
"That's my little sister" she says, pointing to her mom.
Tension fades.. but I knew as I related this story to my wife that I'd barely be able to tell it.. and that I could barely write it down now without falling to pieces.
Because I've taken being a father as my ultimate prize since I was 15.. apparently. Everyone deserves that rock, those big shoulders to sit on, to cry on, to laugh with and most importantly to stick up on the ceiling.
I know much of her interest in me is that I'm some big goof... but I match an imprint a small chid craves as well of a strong male figure; a role, however how small, however infrequent an occurrence, that I can play; that I am honored to be able to play. We all need role models of all different varieties (especially the ceiling lifting kind).
That same imprint I worried my sister did with my girlfriend all those years ago.. the concern that I had with her being a good person for her to imprint with. The anxiety after things didn't work out.. I know that she still turned out great (my sister), and I know that whoever she imprints on for fleeting moments.. that she will turn out great too.
She's too strong and her mom's too dedicated to her success for her not to turn out awesome.
Deep down... I'm still that 15 year old proud to be called "Daddy", even when accidentally. I'm a sappy, happy, emotional wreck, anytime I can go back to playing that role in my head. Cause even acting the part for a few moments is fulfilling.. and I don't know how many more times my two will find it cool to still call me by my ultimate title.
Through all the work, the hours, the tears.. I only have one real goal at the end of this life: to be a great dad.
Tell me what you want
Tell me what you need
You are never alone
You are never alone