Chelsea, Tripper, and Birdie Dungan Lucy Berkley

True Parent 9

Do We Have to Share Everything?

Big Mother Is Watching

True Book Reviews

Build a Better Parent

How to (Teach Someone to) Ride a Bike

An Undiminished Life

Ask the Parent

Good Advice/Stupid Advice

Getting the Lead Out

I had a complicated relationship with my dad. (Bet you’ve never heard that sentence before!) Like so many other guys in my age group, I had one of those stoic Don Draper dads—sadly, not as handsome—for whom parenting was a job best left to family members who had some capacity for expressing emotion. (Hi, Mom!) No joke, I could count the number of times he told me “I love you” on one hand—with no fingers sticking up. In other words, ZERO. But don’t boo-hoo for me! Otherwise I grew up very fortunate, and even if he couldn’t verbally say the words, my father expressed his love by regularly slipping five-dollar bills into my hand. When you’re 11, that’s a pretty good tradeoff!

Yet when it all shakes out, you end up getting a lot from a dad like that, and not just folding currency. My dad accidentally showed me how important it was to spend quality time with my own kids, and that fathering is a hell of a lot harder than it looks. If I was a helicopter parent to my first child, that helicopter was sent to the landing pad and covered with a tarp when kid number two came along. There really is only so much time in a day, and only so much doting one dad can do. That’s why I can forgive roughly a quarter of my father’s self-imposed absence from my life.

And I recently discovered another great lesson dad imparted—again, without him ever saying a word. Our last family vacation took us to a warm environment and a hotel with a pool. Naturally my kids would’ve chosen to live, sleep, and take all meals in that pool if given the opportunity. And they wanted me full-time in that pool as well—even though the combo of urine and chlorine was turning my hair to what felt like gasoline-soaked sagebrush. That’s when I remembered my dad’s number one pool tool: quarters. I stretched out in a lounge chair with a handful of quarters (just like he did), and one by one, tossed them into the pool where my kids dutifully swam down, retrieved and returned them to me... FOR HOURS.

They, and I, were happy as proverbial clams, and it reminded me that I don’t have to work my ass off 24/7 to be the dad I didn’t have. Sometimes just a little bit can be just enough.