I walked around the Darke County Fair (excuse me: the GREAT Darke County Fair) a few evenings ago with our middle child, Daniel. Krista had split from us to spend time with her mother and sister, and Abby opted — of course — to saunter around the grounds with a cadre of friends. Luke stayed home to perfect his Overwatch techniques and perhaps sneak in a nap since he had slept a meager 14 hours the night before.
It is rare that Daniel and I find ourselves with extended periods alone, with no hollering, door slamming, or other vestiges of drama unfolding around us, so I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity. I shrewdly figured that opening the door to Daniel’s heart and brain necessarily involved satisfying his stomach, so I suggested we buy a funnel cake, relax, and chat a while.
Daniel’s face brightened. “That’s a really good idea,” he agreed. The boy reminds me of his great-grandfather Gaines, my maternal grandfather, whose love of food was surpassed only by his love of God and family. Maybe.
We neared the gazebo, funnel cake in hand, and looked for a place to sit. Daniel began to lower onto an empty folding chair.
“Hey, Daniel, that’s someone’s chair. We had better not sit there. They might get angry. Let’s find a bench.”
“What? They own the chair? They, like, brought it from home and put it here?”
“Yes, exactly. That way it’s sort of ‘reserved’ for them.”
Employing a phrase he had obviously acquired from some dark recess of the internet, he replied, “That’s stone-cold crazy!”
“Maybe. But let’s sit over here on this bench.”
We sat down and Daniel began to slowly, steadily consume the egg-and-flour-based, deep-fried confection. I watched him with deep admiration. It takes so little to satisfy this guy.
“Daniel,” I began, “you’re going to turn 16 years old in just a few days. Did you know that?”
“Yeah.” Chomp. Slurp.
“Well, I’ve been thinking. You are changing so much, and you and Luke and Abby are so different from each other, it’s kind of hard for me to keep up with each of you individually…and as a group, too.”
“Oh, nothing to be sorry about. That’s just how life is. I don’t want any of you to stay the same [Author’s note: That’s for sure!]. What I’m trying to say is that I…want to be the best dad for you that I can be, but there are lots of times I have difficulty figuring out what that might mean for each of you. You understand?”
“Okay. Let’s start with this. I need some feedback from you. On a scale from 1 to a 100, how do you think I’m doing as your dad? 1 is horrible…and 100 would represent ‘dad perfection.’”
“Hmmm. I dunno,” he hedged. I could tell by the look on his face he was worried about hurting my feelings.
“Daniel, it’s okay. Just be honest. I won’t be mad and I won’t be hurt. Just tell me what you really think.”
“Well, maybe an 80?”
“An 80?!? That’s great,” I exclaimed. “That’s way better than I thought, plus it gives me some room to improve. Perfect!” I exulted. “My goal would be to get to, say, a 90, but this is a terrific start.”
Daniel was relieved he hadn’t burst a paternal bubble. He smiled. “That’s good,” he mumbled with mild contentment.
“So, Daniel, tell me a little more. Why an 80? Why not a little higher or lower?”
“Well, you’re pretty good,” he replied. “You’re nice to me. You do stuff with me. You help me with different things and teach me stuff. We laugh sometimes. But….”
“Well, there was that time in Washington, D.C. when you missed the right turn off and you went kind of nuts in the car. Remember?”
“And I was in the back seat and I thought to myself, ‘now, THAT’S surprising!’ because usually I only hear Luke say those words.”
“I see. Yes. You have a point, Daniel. I’ll work on my temper and my language. Okay?”
“Yeah. Because Luke said you did that once in Chicago when you were with him. And Abby said it happened once in Pittsburgh, too, and—”
“Okay, Daniel, I got it! I think I’ve received enough feedback for now. You’ve made your point.”
He looked at me, nodded sheepishly, and chewed his funnel cake. “Just being honest,” he whispered.
“I know. I love you, Daniel,” I said. And then I kissed the top of his head
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.