Go Away, Little Girl
I dread spending quality time with my toddler. Am I a bad dad?
I'm in my 30s, and my daughter recently turned 2. I work outside the home, and my wife stays home with our daughter. As my daughter has gotten older, I find that spending time with her is less and less enjoyable. When she was an infant, and I could cuddle up with her on the couch and read a book or watch television, things were fine. Now that she's more demanding, I find it quite frustrating. I feel like my wife pushes us together in the interests of keeping me involved in her life. I realize that my wife needs a break when I get home. However, I just spent eight hours at the office—it's not like I'm on a wonderful vacation all day. When I was a kid, my dad was involved, but somewhat less "hands-on" than would be considered the modern ideal. I hate to say it, but I just don't enjoy Easter egg hunts or playing in the sand box. It's not that I don't love my daughter. I do! I just feel like I'm drowning.
You are drowning if at the end of the day your little girl running to you and saying, "Dada, Dada" fills you with dread. It sounds as if the only part of fatherhood you've enjoyed so far is the fact that as long as an infant is not crying, you can pretend she's a stuffed animal. And, yes, while you aren't on vacation all day, neither is your wife—you acknowledge that spending time with a 2-year-old is hard. However, I give you credit for being able to express what these days is considered inexpressible. Secretly, there are a lot of parents driven around the bend by the endless, monotonous play of toddlers. But while you may have loved your father, do you really want to emulate his distant style? You may be one of those parents who finds that when you can have real conversations with your daughter or coach her at soccer, you will feel a true fulfillment and connection with her. But you have a 2-year-old, and finding a way to enjoy her now will build a bridge to something better when she's older. My suggestion: Let her do things she enjoys, while you do things you enjoy. Your time with her doesn't have to be second-by-second interaction. You can be one of those parents who sits on the bench around the sandbox, absorbed in your BlackBerry, occasionally looking up and making encouraging sounds while she flings her shovel. Put her in a swing and push her for 10 minutes while you listen to your iPod. Get a jogging stroller and plop her in it while you go out for a run. And occasionally focus enough so that when she puts her arms around you and says, "I love you," it feels like a life raft, not an anchor.
Dear Prudence Video: Snooze Alarm Junkie
Dear Prudence Video: Snooze Alarm Junkie
When I was in my 20s, I was deeply in love with a man who was in his 50s. After we broke up, we remained in touch as friends, though I have been happily married with children for over 20 years. He is now elderly and in weakening health but has no family and not many able-bodied friends. I have always loved him and enjoyed his company and want to visit him every couple of weeks to make sure he is getting enough to eat and managing alone. I am in contact with his relatives in another state, and they appreciate it if I keep them posted. They can and will travel here in times of crisis, so this isn't strictly my problem, but I care enough to want to be involved. The problem is that my husband feels threatened by my attachment to this man and resents anything more than an occasional phone call and perhaps lunch on his birthday. What should I do?
I wish your husband could see this situation for what it is: a wonderful testament to your character and a reassurance that if he becomes the infirm partner someday, you will lovingly tend to him. If you have the good marriage that you claim, you need to air this more thoroughly with your husband. Acknowledge his discomfort, even tell him that you feel flattered he is concerned about this man's feelings for you, but make clear that your husband is the love of your life, and there is nothing going on that should be of any concern to him. Tell him you know it doesn't sound like much of an outing, but that you would be delighted if he would accompany you when you checked in on your old friend. Reassure him that there is simply no romantic feeling involved anymore (don't say you still love him—that's too provocative), just a sense of loyalty to someone you still care about who is facing the end alone.
Photograph of Prudie by David Plotz.