Trying to Keep Up
A local dad remembers his childhood and tries to readjust to modern parenting
My wife was our family’s Chief Operating Officer. I was the Committee Chair for fun. When she passed away in 2010 after a short battle with colon cancer, not only was I grieving, but I was also left trying to figure out all of the things she did to hold our family together. I was inept at organization. I didn’t know how to log onto the school website and had no idea how to print an invitation to a birthday party.
I got burned early on. I remember my first kid birthday party without my wife. I was to take snacks to my middle daughter’s class. The day before I realized I had no plan. After I put the kids to bed, I got out the flour, sugar and a rolling pin. I had helped my wife decorate cookies at Christmas, so I imagined this would be easy. Because our last name is Ham, I chose a pig motif cutting out sugar swine and decorating each with an individual icing pattern. When I finished at 2 a.m., I felt like the father of the year.
At school the next day, I pulled out the sweets. Jason, a rambunctious kid, grabbed a pink iced pig, held it to his mouth, and took one giant lick. He then immediately tossed the remainder of the cookie (well, actually the WHOLE cookie) into the trashcan conveniently located next to his desk. The following year I sent Goldfish.
I once sent my oldest two daughters to a service project with twenty cans of tuna. When they arrived, they were dismayed to discover that the items requested were toiletries, not canned goods. My middle daughter teared up with embarrassment. The oldest, my realist, leaned over and said to her, “Step up to the table, drop the bag and walk away quickly. This happens all the time. Get used to it.”
In the years that followed, I became militant about touching paper only once. When I received a registration form or other form of paperwork, I acted immediately — not sleeping until my duties were fulfilled. Once I sent a check to school for Bingo Night. A week later I received an email from the PTA president. It read:
“Thank you for registering for Bingo Night. You sent in one check. We need two — one for the meal made out to the school, and one for Bingo cards made out to the PTA.”
My response to this communique? “YOU ARE TRYING TO KILL ME.” Interestingly, I was never nominated to serve on the PTA.
It’s hard being a parent. These kids I love require feeding, transportation and financial support — and come with mounds of paperwork: annual physicals, registration forms, permission slips … the list is endless. And it doesn’t get easier with age. Just wait until you fill out the financial aid form for your college student. It takes a full day and a couple of stiff drinks to complete.
I don’t think my parents dealt with this kind of pressure. If the school wanted to take us somewhere in the bus, it just did. There was no medical release, no search for head lice at overnight camp drop off, no email to remind my mom that the quarter was ending and my grades were on the way. She didn’t register us for day camp all summer long. In June, July and August, she sent my brother and me out the door at 8 a.m. after a bowl of Fruit Loops and expected us to be within earshot at 6 p.m. for the dinner bell. No one was watching us the 10 hours in between. There was no liability. If we got hurt, we licked our own bloody knee, cried a bit and then worked hard to catch up with our friends, who had left us on the sidewalk.
Man, I long for those days. But I’ll keep trying to readjust — and keep up!
Bruce Ham, who lives in Raleigh, started writing after losing his wife and raising his three daughters on his own. He has written a book, “Laughter, Tears and Braids,” about their journey, and writes a blog about his family’s experiences at therealfullhouse.wordpress.com.