A “great” compliment

Thursday was a busy day. After waking up I went for a nice bike ride, took the wife to cross fit, drove home to change for work, had a crazy busy day at work, went home to shower, paid a few bills, then I went and picked up the little one from day care. I was almost home when I realized that I needed to get gas, a task I try to do before picking up the little bug since it means getting her out, then immediately back into her car seat. Ugh! Not the biggest pain, it’s just inconvenient.

So, as I pulled up to the gas station I noticed a college age man getting out of his car adjacent to the spot where I was parking. He was digging through his change and I heard him tell his girlfriend that the Arizona Iced teas were BOGO so he wanted to grab a few. I seized the opportunity that I saw. I approached the pump, close enough to speak to him, without leaving my car. The ensuing exchange went something like this:

“Hey man. You’re heading back inside right?”

“I’m sorry. What?”

“Back inside, you’re going back inside to get a drink right?”

“Yeah,” he stated looking half worried that I was about to hit him up for money or something. Then he noticed I was holding twenty five dollars. “I’m a little confused bro. What is it you want from me?”

“Well, I have my little girl in the car over here and was just trying to avoid getting her in and out of her car seat, but I need gas. So, I was hoping you could give the guy inside the twenty for my pump and take the five to buy yourself the drinks. That sound cool?”

“Oh. Yeah man. No problem.”

He checked my pump number, then went inside. It was not until then that the realization that he could just take my money to buy beer or whatever, then leave me high and dry, occurred to me. As I waited in semi-nervous anticipation of his exit from the gas station, I passed time by opening the back door so that Leia and I could make funny faces at each other. A moment later my fears were abated when the young sir walked out of the store.

“I put the whole $25 on your pump. Thanks for the offer, but we’re all good with just the two.”

Then he gave me a compliment that is difficult for me to take.

“You’re a great dad. More parents should be like you.” He then got into his Jetta and drove off.

A “great” dad. Hmmmm. That is something that is difficult for me to measure or accept. You see, I am a person who judges and compares myself to others, fairly or not, in almost every aspect of my life. To me, “great” dads are the Cliff Huxtables of the world. They have the ability to have that amazing job, with the amazing salary, have provided an amazing house for their family, and always have the right answer for every situation. In short, “great” dads are perfect.

Perfection as a standard is only one of my many issues taking this compliment.

I have two awesome daughters. One, Leia, is almost two. The other, Meredith, is 18. Both are healthy, intelligent, and loving children who have no problem making others smile and functioning on their respective levels. The difference on my part is that while Leia’s mother is my wife Jonelle, Meredith’s mother and I were never married.

She was born when I was two weeks shy of 21. Her mother and I barely knew each other as people when we found out she was pregnant. It was a tumultuous and unhealthy relationship, at best. This doesn’t affect how I feel, or have ever felt about Meredith, but it did affect how and when we were able to interact. Then, after I couldn’t take the stress of the relationship anymore, I moved from central Illinois to Cleveland. Since then, Meredith and I have never lived in the same city. She was 28 months old when I moved. I have never regretted the decision to escape that venomous relationship, but for years long stretches, our contact varied as I moved to Atlanta, then Orlando, and I drifted in and out of heavy drug use. She was the victim of my selfishness, immaturity and addiction. Sometimes I think she was better off. There were stretches when I was a complete mess of professional ambition and relationship limbo combined with an almost complete void of sobriety.

Fast forward to now and Meredith and I have built a great relationship. It has been difficult at times but I have always put forth whatever effort necessary to mend the rift that I helped to cause. She and I both deserve that much. Meredith comes to Florida to visit whenever funds and school schedules align and she loves her step mother and baby sister. I am proud of her and the person she is becoming and the challenges she has faced have never jaded or destroyed her. I don’t take any credit for her successes since all I have ever provided were money and love, never help with homework or early morning drives to school.

My relationships with my daughters are both strong and healthy, but my shortcomings earlier in life make it difficult for me to accept “great” as an accurate description of my parenting self. As long as my family are happy though, I am satisfied with job I’ve done.

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