Dads and Donuts

He looked at my drawing and laughed. I’d given him a headband.

“What is that? That doesn’t look like me.”

It doesn’t. My son doesn’t even know what a headband is, so I’m sure he’s never sported one. I’d made a stray mark with my colored pencil and decided to just go with it. I’m new to this drawing thing.

Besides I was already uncomfortable sitting awkwardly on the floor beside a table intended for four-year-olds. It was “Dads and Donuts” day at my son’s pre-school, a scheduled hour once/year where fathers can come in and play with their children and see the school’s programs at work. Our given task was to draw each other’s faces, and I’d given my son a headband—and a laugh.

“Your drawing is silly, daddy!”

He’s right. My drawing was silly. The entire morning felt a bit foolish. To be completely honest, I’d dreaded going from the moment I heard about it—a full hour scheduled in the middle of the work week. It cut straight through a busy morning of assignments that needed my attention. I also shifted two conference calls to the afternoon—all for donuts and drawings and seeing how my four-year-old spends a few hours each week, some combination of juice boxes and jungle gyms.

As we walked into the classroom, I made eye contact with several other dads. The majority seemed right at home, but a few stood awkwardly against the wall. Two were completely checked out, busy on their phones. One mom came to represent since dad couldn’t make it.

For the first few minutes, I had a few recurring thoughts:

I’ll ask to go to the bathroom and that’ll kill a couple minutes.
Elliot will never even remember this moment.
I don’t even get what the school is hoping to accomplish with this.

Most of all, I kept thinking about my work. Messages to send. Essays to edit. Assignments to complete. Interviews to transcribe.

Ten minutes later, I’m drawing next to my son, sitting delicately on a chair intended for someone one-tenth my age. We’re laughing at the hair he gave me and the headband I’d drawn for him. He gives me a tour of the room, showing me his drawings, his favorite activities, his friends. We sit together through storytime and a corresponding lesson. He keeps glancing up at me, making sure I’m still listening, still engaged, still there. Then before I know it, the time is up. The donuts were consumed. The dads were dismissed.

We hugged and said goodbye, a temporary parting since he’s home by mid-afternoon.

Now that I’m back at work, I can’t stop thinking about that hour. It was the highlight of my day. It was a gift to see his class. It was an honor to enter his world.

I feel this most nights as we’re putting him to bed. The infant years are mostly horrible (an alarm clock with diapers), while the early toddler years are rewarding here and there. But there’s something magical about four-and-a-half, a unrivaled sweetness that you want to somehow permanently secure. He’s funny and endearing. He’s either painfully slow or annoyingly fast. He’s driven by candy and later bed times. He’s all imagination and cuddles and shirts on backwards and poorly timed jokes. It’s wonderful. He’s wonderful.

This won’t be the last headband I draw. Nor will this be the last time he tells me that I got something wrong. The best thing I’m learning to do is to simply be present, for those moments he glances up.

I am listening. I am engaged. I am here.