My five-year-old was wandering around the house in a Frozen nightgown and holding a magic wand with a pink cupcake on the end. She was telling each member of the family what their super power was. She told Tristan, our 7-year-old, that his super power was watching screens. Aspen, our baby, her super power was crying. And Mel, my wife, her super power was love.
She reached the kitchen, where I was loading the dishwasher, and stood before me, wand at her side. She looked up at me for some time, her mouth twisted, and said, “Daddy. Your super power is arguing,”
She lifted her wand, and brought it down. She smiled, turned, and walked away.
I stood there for some time, trying not to be offended. “Arguing,” I thought. “For real?”
I expected her to say that my super power was tickles, or love, or something sweet. I always saw myself as a loving father. The kind of dad that was compassionate and thoughtful. The kind of dad that let’s their daughter ride them like a horse each night before bed. I didn’t think of myself as one to argue. Particularly a good enough arguer that I had an arguing super power.
She must have thought I was an asshole.
Or a lawyer.
Mel was in the dining room.
“Arguing,” I said. “Really?”
Mel gave me a half grin that seemed to say, “Sorry, but it’s true.”
I suppose that’s the really tragic part of living with children. If you want the truth, ask a five-year-old. They are full of truths and observations and all of it comes without varnish.
My first instinct was to argue against being told that my super power was arguing, and when I think back on that instinct, I suddenly realize that it must be true.
I stepped from the kitchen, sat at the table, and wondered how this happened. Was I the grumpy dad? I thought. This whole time I thought I was the fun dad, or perhaps the goofy dad.
All I could think about was my mother. When I was young, I saw my mother as this angry person. She always seemed moody. When I was a child, if I were to say that she had a super power, it probably would have been arguing. Or something similar. When I became a parent, I remember thinking, “I’m not going to be like my mother.” But there I was, obviously acting just like her. The real scary thing about all this is that if you ask my mother, she would probably say that she was a very sweet and compassionate mother. And this was true, to an extent. But most of the time she yelled… like most mothers.
When I had my first child, I recall thinking about everything my mother did wrong as a parent. It was like a mental checklist. I committed to not yell at my children. I promised myself I wouldn’t say things like, “if you’d only think first,” or “This is why we can’t have nice things,” or any number of phrases that drove me crazy as a child. But sure enough, over the past several years, I’ve started saying all those things and more. Last week I told Tristan that he was, “Driving me to the mad house.”
Damn, that sounded like my mother.
Becoming my mother was a horrible thought for a few reasons. The first was obvious. I didn’t want to become my mother. But the next few were unexpected. Suddenly I felt an understanding of my mother. I began to realize why she came off so crazy when I was child. Poopy bums, constant crying and whining, and arguing with someone over why it is important to wipe your own butt, can make a person crazy.
As I sat at the table, reflecting on my own madness, Norah approached me. She raised her wand, thought for a moment, and said, “Your other super power is cuddles.”
Then she brought the wand down with finality.
“What happened to my super power being arguing?” I said.
“Oh… ,” Norah said. “You’re that, too.”
“Wait,” I said. “That doesn’t work. How can I have a super power of arguing and cuddles? They don’t work together at all. They are binaries.”
I went to say more and Norah put up her wand and said, “Shhhhhh…”
“You have both super powers because you argue when you are mad, and cuddle later!”
Then she stomped her foot.
I furrowed my brow at this. It was truly unexpected. But then I got it. This was how she truly saw me. I was the enforcer and the comforter. I was the one who made her eat vegetables at dinner and provided her with candy for dessert. Whenever I have to discipline Norah, I always wait until she has calmed down. Then I chat with her so she understands why she was in trouble. Then we end with a hug.
This dual role is a huge part of being a parent. Even for my mother. It’s a complicated mess, and I assume this was how Norah processed it all.
I was the super arguer.
I was the super cuddler.
I stood from my chair, and Norah ran up to me and gave me a hug around my thigh.
“Am I using my super cuddle powers?”
Norah didn’t say a word. She just nodded, her face pressed against my leg.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.