Recently, Robyn won the school read-a-thon. She read more books than any other kindergardener in the school over a two week period. When Cherise was called about the victory, the woman said “actually, I think congratulations are in order for you because kindergardeners usually win thanks to their patient parents reading to them.” Cherise sheepishly responds “umm…yeah…read TO her….” Robyn doesn’t really need us any more when it comes to reading, but it if someone wants to give us extra credit, who are we to deny it?…
Anyway, we wanted to mark the occasion by giving Robyn the choice of what to have for dinner and a rare evening DVD movie that Friday night. The girls got “Despicable Me 2” as a gift from their babysitter and Robyn was really excited about watching it, so I assumed that would be the selection. But when I got home from work, Robyn had decided she wanted to watch “Charlotte’s Web” instead. Robyn and Iris had both read the E.B. White story on their own, but they had never seen the movie. Fortunately, there it was on Netflix–complete with Julia Roberts as the voice of Charlotte. The girls brought out their sleeping bags while Cherise and I sat behind them.
Well, the movie stayed true to the book and mixed the book’s tragic twist with the hopeful ending. Cherise and I came down to their sleeping bags to give out hugs and let them know it was bedtime. And then it started happening. When I offered to give Robyn a hug, she recoiled into her sleeping bag. Given Robyn’s sense of humor, I assumed she was just trying to be funny. As I moved back towards Iris, I heard a small squeak. Then another one. And then an excruciating wail.
Robyn was embarking on the biggest crying fit of her life.
The cynical part of me reacted first. I thought, “It’s just a movie. It’s totally not real. Spiders can’t even talk”. Then I thought, “You know the story! You read the book!” But then I became a little sad too. I thought about the story from the perspective of someone that wasn’t so hardened by life. A beautiful friendship. Someone to whom you owe your life. And then she gracefully goes away. I wondered if Robyn looked at Charlotte and thought of her mother. Or maybe me. I almost started to cry myself. I focused on trying to calm Robyn, but it was of no use. She literally cried herself to sleep, occasionally slowing down but never stopping. We tried talking to her, hugging her, everything. However, the power of emotions run high when you’re five years old. But as I was frustrated with the inability for her to stop, I realized that the 40-something father shouldn’t really be talking. In fact, it’s time I come clean.
My name is Sandy and I cry.
Real men don’t cry, right? Sports injury? Rub some dirt on it. Don’t get something you worked hard for? Get mad. Even as a kid, if my brother would do something to physically hurt me, he’d quickly say “Don’t cry. Be tough!”. I’d like to think he was trying to teach me toughness, but in reality, he was trying to save his bacon from our overprotective mother. So I’ve always considered myself a tough Jersey kid. But as the toughest Jersey native, Tony Soprano, once said in defense of a rival who cried after ruining daughter’s wedding, “when it comes to daughters, all bets are off”. And as fathers–especially with little daughters, we are easily exposed. In my case, it’s most evident in a commercial for gum.
In it, you see the father and daughter over the years and how every time they’re hanging out or if the daughter hits a difficult time, her father was there and would make a small little swan out of the wrapping paper. Riding on a train. Vacationing. Rainy days. Broken hearts. Then, the day they load up the car to send her off to college, a box falls out of the car and opens up. Lo and behold, there are a hundred little paper swans that come out. She saved every one. Every time I see this commercial, I need to grab a tissue. Folks, this is a COMMERCIAL FOR GUM!!! And like Robyn with “Charlotte’s Web”, I know how it ends. And I don’t care.
So while I wanted to pass off Robyn’s breakdown as the price of having daughters, I realized that it wasn’t a cost but rather a benefit of the appreciation of life and love. Her intense tears were a reminder of the need to be human and to feel and appreciate those close to us. Whether it’s a father and a daughter or a pig and a spider, appreciating the power of a relationship and its impact on lives is critical. My 20-something macho cred has given way to a 40-something world where emotions and empathy are magnified. Once again, being a parent has been an eye-opening experience and I am forever grateful.