My house is baking from the inside. Late Thursday, the air conditioner died and it wasn’t until Friday afternoon that I learned we needed to get a new condenser put in. Between the weekend, the hurricane, and the fickle finger of fate, my place is still sickly warm as I write this.
The kids were here when it all first began. I immediately grabbed the two main fans I had in the house for distribution. My ten-year-old son got the jacked-up air-filtered unit while his sister was given the giant tower fan. For them, they were perfect.
Well, almost perfect. My non-verbal boy is a fan newbie. With a lifelong A/C story behind him, Lucas had never had to use a fan. The next morning, I found him sitting on the wrong side of it, swiping away on his iPad. I had to place him in front and his eyes widened with surprise. I expected, “A Whole New World” to start playing over an imaginary P.A. system. Welcome to the cool life, little man.
Me? Well, by the time the two major fans were taken, I began searching for others I vaguely remembered packing away in life. Eventually, I found a small round one tied up in the tumble weed of wires in the garage. After a sweaty game of untangle, I pulled it out and plugged it in…only to discover it was broken.
That’s when I remembered another box of tangled wires (hey, I’m a dad) and found an even smaller fan inside. This forearm-sized pity blower barely made the air move, but it would be mine. It served its purpose in the most pathetic way possible.
By day two, the house was sweltering. Still waiting for the part and installation schedule, I had to make a tough choice. I sent the kids back to their mother half a day early. It was a heart-wrenching decision on my part, but one that had to be done. With the inside temperature at 82 and climbing, I couldn’t keep them easy-baking with their old man any longer. I had to send them away.
As we were waiting for their pickup, my daughter turned to me with an exhausted look and said:
Phew. I’m sweating.
“Me too,” I responded. “But hey, you’re lucky. You get to be in air conditioning soon. I have to wait here and sweat.”
The look on her face seemed to show that she hadn’t even considered it before I said it. Truth be told, neither had I.
I’m sorry. That stinks.
Without giving too much though to it, I replied.
Nah. As long as you guys get out, I’m ok. I’m worried about you.
That was the truest thing I had said all day. When I mentioned staying in the heat while she and her brother escaped, I didn’t say it in a resentful way or a “poor me” way. I mentioned it in order to work on her empathy and show her how good things were around the corner for her. I wanted her to appreciate the positive moments in her life and understand that not everyone has them. It was a deeper meaning all around and a big picture lesson.
What struck me the most was how I hadn’t even thought about any of it up until that moment. I hadn’t considered the fact that they were escaping the misery while I stayed behind or how I had doled out the good fans while taking the worst of the worst. It was just something that, as a dad, I did. I did it without thinking. Most huge sacrifices I’ve had to make as a father have gone that way.
Fewer umbrellas mean I’ll go without one so they are shielded from the rain. I’ve handed over my favorite pillows and best blankets. I’ve stayed awake on little sleep to help them through the sniffles. I have gone without in major ways to make sure my children could have what they need. I do it without a second thought.
Now, there’s the part that those without kids struggle to believe. They roll their eyes and think this is some sort of magnanimous parental virtue signaling. I am just saying this so that you’ll pat me on the back and send me edible arrangements. There’s no way I can do these things without thinking about my own suffering.
But I do.
And I can prove it.
I can prove it because there are most definitely times when I, as a father, notice and debate moments where my kids are put first. It’s the smaller moments though. The last snack in a pack, for example, is one such example.
Opening the cabinet to find one lone chocolate chip cookie rattling around in a package brings a deep internal struggle. My brain begins the battle. I could eat it. No one would know. The kids aren’t here. They aren’t looking. They have a million other things to eat. They don’t need this delectable treat. It could be mine. It should be mine. Mine!
Full disclosure, sometimes I eat it. If anyone asks, I just say “we’re out of cookies.” No mention of who ingested the final one. It’s gone. Poof. You missed out. Deal with it.
Often, however, I don’t eat it. I save it like gold. When that happens, it becomes something that I broadcast as a post-dinner announcement of self-congratulations.
Want a cookie? There’s one left. I saved it. I saved you the last cookie. You want it? It’s there. The last cookie. I didn’t take it. I saved it for you. Where’s my edible arrangement?
Cookies, however, are very different than debilitating heat and that’s what makes parents parents. Missing a treat won’t cause them to be sick or uncomfortable. It’s a different ballgame. When the issue is major, we do it without thinking. When it’s minor, we probably eat the last cookie.
So, as I sit here watching my chewing gum melt in its pack on my computer desk and ponder eating the mushy warm cookie rattling around in my cabinet, I know I did the right thing. I took the heat so my kids don’t have to. When they return, the house will be cool, just like their dad. I just hope they aren’t excepting any ice cream to be left when they get here.
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