Last summer I had a conversation with my good friend Brian Gaffney about fatherhood. As he and I swapped stories about his adventures with his two boys and mine with Snuggle Biscuit’s two boys (Singing Biscuit & Teen Biscuit) we marveled at how similar fathering was to jazz. Both art forms–we concluded–required a capacity to improvise, to take conventional knowledge and turn it into something spectacular.
Now that I am spending more time with Turtle Biscuit, I am also realizing that the jazz & dad aesthetics have another similarity: one must be willing to occasionally counter their intuitions. The clearest example I have for this is that whenever someone sees a crying baby the first impulse is to pick her up. It makes sense. As adults we associate crying with distress therefore if a child is crying, she must clearly be in distress.
Yet, as I am learning not all cries are created equal and picking up the child is not always the right thing to do, regardless of what my instincts say. For example, just a few moments ago Turtle Biscuit awoke from a nap prematurely. She had only been asleep for about twenty minutes, and this is a point in the day where she’ll sleep for a good 2-3 hours. I ran in the room when I heard her. A few months ago I would have immediately scooped her up. Instead, I made eye contact, made it clear that she was not alone, and went back to the kitchen to finish washing the dishes. As I washed dishes I heard her whimper a bit, and there was a moment when she almost mustered a cry (and I almost went back in to get her) but I kept on reminding myself that she’s sleepy and as nice as it would feel to be cradled in Dad’s arms, an afternoon nap would feel even better. And wouldn’t you know it, by the time I was done with the second dish she was already sound asleep.
After that conversation with Brian I started thinking about who were some of my favorite dads. After all, if fathering is like jazz then we must clearly have some exemplary fathers—who are the Coltranes & Ornette Coleman’s of this Dad game. I have a few like friends Kevin J, Mike Molina, of course Brian, Minkah, Josh H. and Gene Jarrett whose Dad skills I’ve admired for a while now. And then there are men like Neil, Kamau and Kwame who I’ve been blessed to know well enough to know that they studied under some Dad legends in their own right, Dad icons like Mr. Roberts, Mr. Bobb and Mr. Flaherty–Dad impressarios who I’ve cribbed more than a few tricks off in my lifetime.
In due time, I hope to have my name among the greats, but in the meantime, I have a basket full of clothes to fold…
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