My daughters aren't so easily amused. It takes more to get them to laugh, to get their attention, to get them excited. Another way of saying it...they aren't so easily pleased.
They are older. Things that used to be enough, aren't so much. Conversations didn't require nearly as much energy and creativity. I used to be able to step into their rooms and get them laughing with simple stories and spontaneous playacting. Whatever I made up on the spot was plenty sufficient to hold their attention and affection.
But slowly I've noticed subtle changes. Thresholds have shifted. I have to work harder to engage conversation...they drift elsewhere if I'm too lazy, hoping it will come to me. It's not coming to me like it used to. They've seen more. They've heard more. They've experienced more. Their worlds have widened and I've become a smaller character.
Hang on...here's what I think it feels like.
It feels like I'm becoming a smaller character. And here's where I think a lot of dads bow out and allow that conclusion to feed a delusion. When you feel like your role has lessened, been diminished somehow, it makes you want to pull away in order to preserve pride. No one wants to keep pursuing something that makes them feel like failures. When you feel like your daughters could care less...and less...and less, instincts of self-preservation cause you to lean toward things that are easier and "pleasier". (not a word, but you get my point)
But just the opposite is true.
The role of a parent (a father) is more crucial and relevant than ever. My daughters aren't plotting to push me away...they are scheming ways to make me feel unwanted. I could believe that to be the case, but it's not true. They are simply changing and their worlds expanding...will I change with them, expand with them? Will I keep nudging into the spaces they give me, or long for the wide open spaces of yesteryear? Will I take greater pains to relate to their scatterbrained existence looking for in-routes, end-arounds? Can I make mid-course adjustments, finding ways to express my affection more stealthily. As Jesus said, "Be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves." I think that's a killer piece of advice for parents of pre-adolescent and adolescent children. We long for the days of easy-energy, but those days are gone. We aren't playing with bb guns anymore shooting tin cans and burnt out barn lights, we have to aim our lives and make every shot count.
Here's the thing, it takes intellectual, relational, and emotional work now. It's not just physical activity and physical presence...that doesn't suffice. Before I could play with them while I did other things. They couldn't tell the difference between half-hearted parenting and whole-hearted parenting. They were just tickled pink that I was there. I didn't have to be as present, I just had to be there. But with every year the relational requirements raise bit by bit. They begin to desire engagement and can pick up on detachment. There's a shift, something weird is astir.
They need more and want less. (at least that's what it looks like)
They appear to be doing fine without you. They are swallowed up in activities and friendships and technological devices and books, etc. They aren't running to the door and saying, "Daddy, daddy!!" when you get home, that's for sure. You walk in and they are sitting on the couch watching television like zombies. You say hi and they barely look up as they say hi back. Again, it looks like they are disinterested and would rather you not bother them. They may even make statements that seem to indicate as much. "Dad, you're weird." or "Dad, stop it." You go to hug them, tickle them, joke with them...and they don't seem so warm to the gestures anymore. You sit by them and they stay put. They used to move over and lean on your arm or chest. You try to pry into their day asking about school or church or soccer and the "one-word-answers" begin to break down your resolve to stay close to them. So you give them their space. You conclude, "If they want to be close to me, they can make the first move."
I've had to fight off these real feelings...and I have above-average affectionate daughters. I have to labor for flow in conversation. Laying with them in bed seems more stilted and stoic if I don't employ every technique in the playbook to keep it unpredictable. I do everything but make them come and sit on my lap. Persisting, pestering. I think they need to be close to me whether they know it or not. I don't think they know what they need right now or what they want. So I have to stay on task regardless of the kickback. The rewards for my labor aren't as easily seen these days, but my belief is that every word and deed is planted in the soil of their souls laying dormant until their college years and on into young adulthood. Those seeds are sacred. I must keep planting them though the harvest isn't as immediate as it once was.
I could write more, perhaps I will someday. But for now I just wanted to put words to a feeling so that I don't let that feeling change my commitment to father them to the very end. I don't father for a response, I father for a reason...and that reason is love.