This post originally appeared in a blog for Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.
About six years ago, I saw what has become my favorite piece of art. It was in my friend’s kitchen. Hanging on his wall, adjacent to his stove, was a small Keith Haring painting of a parent and young child holding hands.
“That’s me and my son,” I told my friend.
Holding my son’s hand is perhaps my favorite thing about being a dad. It’s not the simple act of holding hands. It’s what I feel when we hold hands. All the mushy love-type stuff. And I know he feels the same. All unspoken with my hand wrapped around his.
Just last weekend, my son and I were at the farmer’s market on Clement Street. He reached out and grabbed my hand as we were walking home. My son, Bailey, is 10 years-old. I know time is ticking on hand holding. I’m an assistant principal of a K-8 school and a former middle school teacher. I’m well aware that I’ll be lucky to have one more year of holding his hand. Maybe a couple of more years if no potential cool person is anywhere in the vicinity to see us.
It’s hard being a dad. Bailey doesn’t go around saying, “Thank you dad for helping me with my homework.” He never once has said, “You play on the iPad, while I do the dishes.” I’ve never heard him say, “I understand that you had to work late and miss my baseball playoff game.”
That last one happened last month. Bailey’s team miraculously had gone from losing their first game without getting a single hit to the semi-finals. I was scheduled to present to my board of directors on the same night as the biggest game of his short life. It was an intense moral dilemma for me. Support my son or take the opportunity to impress very important work people? When I’m old and gray(er), I thought, I would remember the baseball game, not the board meeting.
It didn’t help that Bailey’s other dad, my ex, was already looking into postponing a flight to attend the possible finals. Ultimately, I chose work in this instance. There was a tinge of guilt though and a sense of jealousy that my ex just scored a run, while I struck out.
They lost the game. My ex told me all about it. Bailey didn’t seem to care. Whew! He seemed more interested in hanging out with his friends than whether or not his team won.
Bailey’s indifference did not last. The next night was the league’s awards dinner. When Bailey and I walked into the lobby where the event was held, he told me he didn’t want to go. I asked him why. He explained he was mad at the coach for not pitching him in the last couple of regular season games or in the playoffs. I convinced Bailey to go in to support his teammates. Ultimately, he had a good time with his friends.
Later that night, Bailey and I were sitting on our couch. He placed his hand in mine and I squeezed his hand tight. He was still angry. I continued to hold his hand and comfort him as best as I could.
The Keith Haring painting of the dad and son seems so happy. But life is rarely two-dimensional. Sometimes it’s hard being a dad and an assistant principal and an ex. It’s hard, too, being a 10-year-old and a baseball player. Sometimes the only thing to do is hold hands.
In my mid 20’s, I made a bucket list. Becoming a dad was on the list. Everything on my list has been accomplished. And I’m only 44. I’ve been very blessed. It’s not been easy. I’ve worked hard. I’ve persevered. I’ve also had lots of help and Bailey has 300 honorary uncles, my brothers in the San Francisco Gay Mens Chorus.
Every year for the last five Father's Days, Bailey, my ex, and I hike up Mt. Tamalpais to the West Point Inn for a pancake breakfast. We laugh at Bailey’s potty jokes and create a conga line over each wooden bridge. Bailey complains it’s too hot — or too cold — and when we get to a fork in the trail, we try to remember which one leads to the pancakes. If we get lost (like last year) we’ll forge a new exploration. Maybe in a wide part of the trail, Bailey will hold both our hands and attempt to do midair summersaults.
When the hike is over, I hold his hand as we walk along the narrow, curvy, paved road back to our car. When an oncoming car approaches us, he lets go of my hand and walk ahead of me. I warn him to keep to the edge of the road and to not get too far ahead. I need to protect him, to love him. That’s what a father does. That’s what I get to do.
SEAN HIGGINS is the assistant principal of the Hoover Community School, Redwood City School District