Some of my best moments as a father have come when I feel like I'm putting the rest of my family's needs in front of my own. Driving back from someone's house, late at night, my wife and son both falling easily asleep because they know they can count on me to get them home safe, that's when all of the happy hours you've missed, all the hours of "Transformers" movies endured, they all become worth it.
Either that or the Tom Waits CD I was listening to put them both to sleep. It's difficult to tell.
I've run into people who tell me, "I could never have kids. I'm too selfish." I have to disagree. I'm completely selfish, and most of the time it works out fine. It's very easy to recognize when I'm being a good parent: it's the times I'm not being selfish.
See, I am not by nature a person who likes to share, another one of the many quirks I like to call "personality traits" but everyone else calls "flaws." Sandra Bullock learned this the first time we were in a restaurant and she demurred on dessert, telling me that instead she'd "just have a few bites of (mine)."
It actually makes me kind of mad just typing that.
It's hard-wired into my DNA, like a receding hairline and hypertension, and equally attractive. I remember being at Disneyland in 1982 with my first-ever Real Girlfriend. I thought the sun rose and set on her, even though my dad said that the only reason she had bangs was to hide the tattoo reading "shiksa" on her forehead and my sister's friend made fun of us at Coco's one night, snickering and calling my girlfriend "Sandra Dee" before figuring out that the tool in the webbed sailboat belt was her best friend's little brother.
The truth lay somewhere in the middle. Regardless, even First Girlfriend was not welcome to eat from my personal popcorn bag as we walked through Frontierland. I held it together and didn't say a word, all in the name of teenage love. It wasn't easy.
It's not that I can't share anything. You want to borrow my car? It's yours. I can't share food.
My inability is to gracefully share desserts, beverages, pasta dishes, whatever. If it's edible, I want it all for myself; further ammo for the "my husband is so weird" school.
I'm not proud of it, but don't deny it, either. It is weird and I hate myself for it and I've worked really hard to not tense up when she says, "I'll just have some of yours," but I'm telling you; in the unlikely event I live to be 100, they'll bring in a bowl whatever space-age salty snack they're feeding guys who've had high cholesterol for 70 years, plop it down on the table and I'll immediately start stressing out, afraid that I won't get any before it's all gone.
And yet, when the Jawa was smaller, I had no problem giving him my food. What was mine was his, proof that I had transcended the selfish world of my single years, fully realized and functioning as a parent. It was part of the responsibility to create a safe and bountiful world for my child. Part of that was giving him what was mine. Whether the hidden cameras caught it or not, it felt good.
So why is it that all of a sudden it drives me crazy that the child never brings his own water bottle? That good feeling wasn't enough to absolve me? To fix the damaged part of me that thinks Daffy Duck had it right when he grabbed whatever money he could and shouted, "It's mine! All mine!"?
Today I picked the Jawa up at school a half-hour before swim lessons. I had no problem going to Ursula's office to get his backpack, giving him the opportunity to launch a few more half-court shots. Back at the car, hidden in my backpack, was a 25.3 oz. bottle of water. My bottle of water, set up for the workout I'd planned to complete while the Jawa was learning the butterfly. Stupidly, I had no contingency plan in the event he did what he does every single day, which is to look around wildly and say, "Dad, do we have any water?"
Clever boy. By saying "we," it challenges me to embrace the concept of the cohesive family unit as fully as he obviously has.
"It's in my backpack in the back seat. If you want it, you've got to get it." This is no problem when you're 12 and still able to touch your toes with ease. In a flash, he had the bottle and was slugging away at my water.
Interestingly, he sometimes employs the language of his mother to get at my water. If he thinks I'm especially hostile to water takeovers, he'll say, "Can I have a SIP of your water?" which drives me insane, because he has no intention of having a "sip." He's going to slam that water, draining half of the bottle in one "sip," no matter how he tries to cloak his intentions in manipulative language. Besides, "sip" is an exceptionally lame word all on its own.
I try to stay calm. There goes my water. Worse yet, he's alternating gulps from the bottle -- my bottle -- with bites of the banana I thoughtfully remembered to bring from home. So not only will I arrive at the gym and immediately have to go refill my water while other people claim free elliptical machines, a rare commodity at 5 pm, but the water I eventually drink will be banana-flavored.
I try to stay calm, but I'm weak. One, two, three gulps. The bottle is a third gone. That's 8.429 ounces for those of you whose laptops have calculators, like mine. The innocent little comments I make are loaded with the pressure of compressed rage. "Hey, leave some for me," I say, hoping it comes out light and joking.
We arrive at swim lessons, my child, 12.65 ounces of water and me, ten minutes early. Usually I hang around until his lesson starts, then hotfoot it for the gym, which is next door, hoping to squeeze in a 20-minute cardio session and be back by lesson's end. This time -- and having nothing to do with the fact that I am presently obsessed with the half-empty water bottle in my hand -- I decide to capitalize on the extra ten minutes. That's 200 more calories I can burn off.
My lame attempts at remaining chipper and neutral have failed. I follow the Jawa into the pool area, only to have him turn, wave at me and say, "Okay, go work out." He usually asks me to stay.
I feel, finally, awful. What kind of father can't share a water bottle with his only son? (The kind who tells the kid to bring his own water bottle, perhaps choosing from the 24 or so in the downstairs refrigerator, left over from last week's block party but, at 16.9 ounces, far too small to satisfy for an entire workout, only to have the kid day after day forget to bring his own water bottle, possibly because he correctly assumes that his father will have one, because his father always has one, and what is his father's is his also, so why bring your own water bottle? That kind of father.)
As I chug away on the elliptical, I vow to allow free access to my water on the way home. In fact, I think, I'll refill the bottle to assure ample hydration for both of us. And, of course, he doesn't touch the thing all the way home, making me feel even worse because he's obviously staying away from it because he doesn't want to make me mad.
As Popeye has often says, "I am what I am." At forty-five years old it's probably too late to change me into a free-flowing sharing machine. Though in moments of weakness Sandra Bullock admits that I'm "much better" than I was 20 years ago, I'll always prefer having my own dessert.
But there is a solution, even for unreconstructed non-sharers like me: next time, I'll bring two water bottles: one for me and one for him.