It’s our second time attending a gathering at the home of a family in our new church. Adults stand in clusters in the kitchen chatting and eating. Occasionally a few kids charge past. I’m in the middle of a conversation about school sports with another mom, when I hear a familiar two-toned sound. It’s my husband’s signature whistle. I hunch my shoulders toward my ears, shooting him the did-you-really-have-to-do-that look. But it is getting late. We do need to round up our kids. Sure enough, footsteps come quickly thudding from several directions. Pretty soon, our three girls are gathered around my husband, getting their departure instructions. He gives a knowing grin over their heads. I shrug back at him. Truth is, as much as I don’t care for his Captain Von Trapp impression, it works.
Before we had our first child twelve years ago, my husband offered to yield all the parenting to me. “After all, you were the babysitter. I know nothing about babies,” he claimed. Yet something remarkable happened in that hospital room. While I was bedridden, recovering from childbirth, he figured out how to care for our daughter. By the time we got home with our new little one, he was teaching me how to swaddle her, scolding me for leaving the jumbled blanket too loose. When I couldn’t coax a burp, he’d coach me on a hold he’d perfected for doing the job.
Before long he was interjecting other ideas of his own, learning to assert himself as her father. And by the time our second child arrived, he truly was an old pro. Watching him grow into that role made me swell with pride. I loved his knack for calming our girls when they were fussy. He’d put his brawn to work gently swinging our heavy car seat carrier, baby and all, until they settled. And I loved how he’d sing tenderly off-key as he deposited them in their beds for the night.
There were other moments though, where I chafed at the differences between his parenting ways and mine. He’d wrestle and roll on the floor with our girls, eliciting shrieks and giggles. I worried. Worried he’d be too rough, that someone would get hurt. He’d brush off my over-cautiousness.
“Loosen up,” he’d say. “We’re having fun.”
Or he’d lead our family on hikes through the woods of a campground, urging us to forge our own path. I’d call out often from the rear of our pack, “Are you sure this is the right way? These branches are getting awfully thorny. How are we going to get across this stream here?”
Again he’d ignore my fears and cross that stream with his characteristic aplomb, guiding our trusting girls along behind him.
Sometimes he simply has a different idea of what’s appropriate for our children. Such as letting our daughter head out into the cold with a thin jacket on because she’s “not as chilly as you always are.” Or feeding our girls Spam with their macaroni and cheese, like it makes a complete meal.
When he first started whistling for our kids, I questioned his motives. Did he really think they could be summoned like dogs? True to his engineering nature, he rattled off a reasoned response I found hard to refute – something about efficiency and pitch. He remained insistent that the whistle worked. I relented.
As with many of the other ways he parents differently from me, I’ve found his whistle is an improvement over the alternative (say, yelling). Just as I learned that wrestling with dad can be safe and fun, the wild can be a great place to conquer your fears and explore new things, and young girls can be warm enough in just a light jacket on chilly days, I’ve learned that a whistle summons has its place in our family life (we won’t talk about those macaroni and cheese and Spam dinners).
In all this, I’m glad my girls have their father to parent them too. They need his adventurous spirit and light-hearted nature to balance their straight-laced mom. And I need his differences too. I’ve grown through parenting with him. I’ve learned to let go more. I’ve learned to risk more. And I’ve found my way doesn’t have to be the only way. Because of his role as a father, I’ve become a better mother.
At last we’ve gotten together our kids, said our goodbyes and headed out the door of our new friends’ house. As our girls scamper down the walk ahead of us, I reach out and squeeze my husband’s hand. I give him a quick smile. In return he lets out another whistle, low and under his breath. It’s a quiet catcall. It’s directed at me. And it lets me know, in his own way, he appreciates our differences too.
Lara Krupicka is a freelance writer and mom to three girls. She likes that her husband, Mike, is the one that her daughters go to for pulling splinters.
“52 Things Kids Need from a Dad” by Jay Payleitner (Harvest House Publishers, 2010)
National Center for Fathering (www.fathers.com)
“Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad” by Dan Zevin (Simon & Schuster, 2012)