A possible pitfall for many single dads is an underdeveloped sense of empathy for their children. Most men are raised to shrug off the multiple dings we absorb during an average day. When our children come to us with nose bleeds, upset tummies or after slips and falls that don’t result in serious injury, I think we are less likely to respond with the whole “kiss-the-boo-boo” thing than the average mom. We are more apt to offer some variation of the “walk it off” refrain we’ve heard from every schmuck carrying a whistle since grade school. This is definitely an issue for me.
In my case, the uncertainty of how to handle my children’s pain stems from:
- a sense of helplessness because, if there is no obvious sign of injury or illness, I cannot accurately gauge the severity of the pain;
- a subconscious plea to all available deities that any injuries or illnesses suffered are minor (what dad up at 3 AM watching TV because he’s sweating college money doesn’t cringe when one of those St. Jude’s commercials pops up?); and
- my own life-long tendency to ignore physical pain that doesn’t keep me from standing upright.
When either of my kids comes to me crying, after I settle her/his panic, my brain immediately shifts into analysis mode, much like those scenes in the original Terminator showing the cyborg’s POV. I ask the appropriate questions and, based on the responses, assess my options, then take action. Sometimes, I remember to throw in a little affection. Sometimes.
Child care is the ultimate measure of one’s ability to multi-task. When mine are with me, I’m thinking of 150 things while doing 12 at any given moment. The very thought of a trip to an urgent care center or emergency room eclipses all. If either becomes a necessity, the day is done and a prayer goes up for a positive outcome. Unfortunately, anything short of a real emergency might find my response lacking. Not enough tenderness, I fear. I need to fine tune the balance between gentle reassurance and definitive action. The abilities to calmly dislodge food from a trachea, splint a fracture or dress a wound are of no small importance, but in a child’s mind, the memory of having a shoulder to cry on at a time of distress could be the difference between a dad raising a sociologist or a sociopath.
No normal person wants to see a kid in pain, but as any good pediatric nurse might advise a concerned parent, a little coddling does a lot of curing. Dads, unfold those arms, wrap ’em around your kid and learn to kiss those boo-boos.