When Did You First Feel Like A Father?
When exactly did I become a father? I’ve asked myself that question a lot lately.
I don’t mean in a technical sense like when the doctors said, “Mr. Lund, would you like to cut the umbilical cord?” and I responded, “Get that thing away from me!”
Nor in a societal sense when the stroller, diaper bag, and zombie-like look on my face easily identified my status to fellow mall goers.
I mean in the instinctual sense. When fatherhood became a part of me. When it fused into my DNA.
I’m not sure when that happened, but I do know when I first noticed it.
It was last year, on an uncharacteristically cold and rainy day at the “Happiest Place on Earth That Charges $100 A Pop to Get In.”
The occasion was my daughter’s birthday and I graced the Magic Kingdom with her, my young son, and four cousins in tow.
I know what you’re thinking, pretty smart move, taking six pre-pubescent kids to Disneyland. Why not enter a cat herding contest while you’re at it?
And in years past you might have been right. But I had done my research and knew that Disney’s new park, California Adventure, had opened next door, and at that park they served alcohol.
Now let me take a moment and say that I’ve never been the type to self-medicate with alcohol, nor would I ever recommend anyone do so. However, if I’m spending twelve hours with six kids at an amusement park, I’m going to be self-medicating with alcohol.
And I reasoned that Disneyland surely had to have caught up with its newer, hipper sister park and added adult beverages to their menu of cotton candy, turkey legs, and churros. Right?
It wasn’t until I was well into the bowels of the park that I realized Disneyland was still as dry as a Utah township on Sunday. Well, with the exception of the ultra-exclusive Club 33, where only those who paid upwards of $10,000 per year for membership could imbibe.
So, after a few fruitless minutes on the phone with my bank attempting to convince them to raise my ATM limit to $10,000, I accepted my sober fate and geared up for a long day. And it was a long day.
Despite the weather and the holiday season, the park was jam packed, with lines regularly taking up to an hour to navigate. Which is why, after queuing up for hours on end, I was shocked to hear one of the cousins yell, “Come on, over here. There’s no line at all.”
She was right. So I grabbed my son, and with my daughter scrambling behind, we zigzagged through the empty turnstiles and in seconds arrived at the front of the line, only a few people short of boarding.
What luck I thought. I finally caught a break. What ride was this I wondered silently? A rustic looking bear held a hand carved sign bearing the answer.
Splash, as in water. How much water would rain down on me and my kids on this cold and blustery day I wondered? A lot it turned out.
“Oh, you’ll get really wet on this,” came the overly cheerful response from the blissfully insane “Cast Member” in charge of launching faux-logs full of eager guests into a man-made river of ice cold water.
“Especially since you’re in the front,” she added.
I knew I was in trouble when I peered back at the couple in the rear of our log — obviously Disneyland pros — who looked like deckhands from an episode of Deadliest Catch. They doned hooded slickers with drawstring pulls, ready, it seemed, to take on whatever Slash Mountain, or a Nor’easter, could throw at us.
My kids and I all wore the same outfit, a light sweater over a T-shirt, our jackets left on the bench where we sat during a break in the rain, just before the clarion call of the cousin first materialized.
In my head I began to do parental math.
If my kids get soaked right now, they are going to be wet the whole day, and they (read, I) will be miserable. With that thought in mind I sprang into action.
“Take off your sweaters,” I yelled. They did so and I balled them up and stuffed them best I could into the baseball cap I was wearing. That then was wrapped in my own sweater and stuffed under the back of my T-shirt.
No doubt I looked like a modern-day Quasimodo as I tried to push the mass behind me into the concaved seat back. I thought, as long as I can keep the sweaters dry, I can either throw them back over the kids T-shirts if they don’t get too wet, or substituted them entirely if they get soaked.
We all got wet, but not terribly so. The ride however was a bit more intense than I thought it would be, culminating with — what I will swear was to my dying day — a near vertical plunge into a splash pool.
My son, all five years old of him, sat in the very front of the log, between my legs, enjoying the ride fully, not caring a wit about how wet he might get, or about the deadly drop into the splash pool.
And it was only after the ride was over that I realized my fatherly transformation was complete.
Walking towards the exit, we passed by monitors displaying momentary snapshots of each logs’ passengers just at the precise moment that they were about to take the final plunge.
To my amazement, I saw that in that moment, unconsciously and instinctually, I had wrapped my arm around my little boy, holding him for dear life. Just in case — well, I don’t really know why — but just in case.
And I realized, I was a father.
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