I’m a father of two teenagers. A boy, sixteen and a girl, fifteen. They haven’t lived in the same house as me since they were two and three years old. I’ve always tried to be the most involved dad I can in spite of this separation. I’m sure even residential parents of teens can relate, but lately it seems that as they grow bigger, so my hero status shrinks with frighteningly, inverse-proportionality. The teenage years have proved to be kryptonite to my SuperDad alter ego.
I’ve been emotionally relegated. No longer do I feel I am the strongest, funniest, smartest, most magical father alive. Now it often feels like I’m the uncool, taxi driving banker who can’t, or perhaps shouldn’t dance. Ever.
In fact after some of my regular trips up to Joburg I have to say I left feeling energized by my new job but somewhat floundering as a father.
I moved to a different city last year (2013) in May. I’d really decided that I wanted to move to Cape Town from Johannesburg almost a year before I actually did it. The long distance relationship I was in had reached the point where cohabitation with my now fiance, had become a necessity for us both. The actual delay in relocating though was informed by a number of factors; obviously finding a job was important but I also needed to make sure my children were going to be ok with the transition. I recall being completely petrified to break the news to them. Fearing that they were going to fall to the floor, gnashing their teeth, hysterically crying and hanging onto my legs, begging me to stay.
So after deliberating for weeks as to how I would share this traumatic information, I took the afternoon off work, picked them up and took them to lunch. The news of my impending move was delivered over dessert at the local Spur restaurant and was received with all the sorrow and emotion of a child whose just learnt that the square root of 64 is 8.
After the lack of emotion had dissipated, the non-event-void was gratefully replaced with a question. Primarily about whether or not I could drop them off at a friend’s place after lunch. I politely reminded them that I’d taken the afternoon off to spend time with them, possibly in the comfort of an air-conditioned cinema. This news was not received quite as well as the news of my relocation. In fact a debate ensued between the two as to whose turn it actually was to spend time with me.
It was then that I knew they’d be just fine without me. In fact in subsequent conversations I learnt that they were almost relieved that I was going. Not because they wanted rid of me but because they both knew I was moving to live a healthier lifestyle with the woman I love (whom they love too). It turns out my young children worried about me. Worried about me being alone in Joburg and spending nearly every waking moment in the office.
This week, the obvious finally hit me. My children really are growing up. My secret wishes to keep them young and dependent upon me are no match for the inevitable passage of time and the bio-chemical wizardry of Mother Nature.
I recalled how after my mother passed away when I was 21, I often worried about my father. These worries were often coupled with immense guilt that I was enjoying myself out with friends whilst he sat at home alone. These feelings only left me some years later when I knew for sure that he was ok (largely after he met the wonderful woman who is now my stepmom).
So it would appear that losing my godlike, hero status with my children is not nearly as important as us all acknowledging that things must move forward. My children must be free to grow up without worry and guilt just as much as I need to allow them their space to spread their wings.
I’ll keep my SuperDad cape folded neatly in the cupboard, secure in the knowledge that I can slip it back on whenever my flourishing offspring need me to.
For now I am content in just being me, the LiabilityGuy.