I remember being Sophia's age and rushing to get ready for bed on the nights when my dad was home so that I could listen to my own father read The Lord of the Rings. He had an infuriating habit of reaching a point of extreme suspense and then, while stretching his arms and yawning, announce that it was time for us to all go to bed. We would groan in disappointment and then beg for just one - only one! - more chapter and then we would go to bed like good little children. Sometimes he would relent and sometimes we just had to go to bed.
The memory of being tucked into my parents' warm waterbed, bobbing up and down as one of my siblings wiggled, is one of those ones enshrined in childhood remembrance as the Best Times, the times where everything was right and good and perfect in my own little world. I was safe and warm and listening to a good story read by my perfect, good, loving father.
Some evenings in our house are good evenings. Brandon comes home from work to a tasty dinner and children bathed and ready for bed. We've had a good day at school and everyone has finished their work and we've had a nice afternoon together. All is right in the world and we spend dinner discussing the evolution of germ theory or the fall of Constantinople before the children cheerfully (or at least willingly) help with the dishes and then brush their teeth quickly without any fighting.
Some evenings in our house are not good evening. Brandon has to work long and the bureaucracy has not given him a break and the traffic has been possibly worse. The children and I have had a day of wrangling, where nobody wants to get their work done and everybody wants to fight with each other. The house is a mess, dinner is late, the dinner conversation is largely centered around telling various children to stop fighting, spilling things, burping, making noises, reprimanding each other, or complaining. Getting ready for bed takes half an hour and a lot of shouting.
But every evening, whether it is a bad evening, a good evening, or an in-between evening, ends the same way. After everyone is ready for bed (whether quickly or slowly) and we've prayed together, Brandon settles down for story time. Sometimes it's long because they've gotten to one of the good parts of the story and sometimes it's short because Brandon has read himself to sleep. But it is always there.
Once I asked Brandon why he read to the children every night. By the time story time comes around, I am completely done being a parent. I have spent twelve hours with all six of my children and we have seen enough of each other. All I want in the world is to get their little bodies in to bed as quickly as possible so that I can finally be off the clock. My job is not done until all of the monkeys are contained.
"I like it," he told me, "It's one of the best parts of my day. I don't have to make anyone do anything and we can just enjoy being together. I always look forward to coming home and reading to the children. My evening isn't complete without reading to them."
I was floored. My husband spends all day at work. He leaves for work right after breakfast and comes home sometimes right as dinner starts, sometimes later. While we have been going to the pool or playing at the park, while I have been napping and the children playing, he has been working. No naps or parks or pool for him. Just work all day, doing whatever everyone else wants of him. Then he comes home and it is more work, shepherding everyone through dinner and then helping with the dishes and getting children ready for bed. And then finally, when all of his responsibilities are over and he can do something of his own choosing, he spends his precious free time reading to his children. And not only does he do it because he knows it is good and right, he does it because he likes it. He likes spending time with them, sharing his favorite stories and inviting them in. He would rather be telling the story of Frodo and Sam than surfing the internet or watching TV. It's enjoyable.
When I think about Brandon and my father and nightly story time, I am struck every time by the unselfishness of fathers. They go to work all day (and for my father, sometimes all night) at jobs that most of them don't particularly enjoy. Some of them work in jobs that are downright dangerous. And while they are digging ditches and writing cables and delivering babies and fighting wars, everyone else is at home, in the house they pay for, enjoying the fruits of their labor. I remember waking up around nine on one lazy summer morning and realizing that everyone in my family was going to spend the day at the pool while my father spent the day at the office. His labor was supporting the six of us in our laziness (well, my mother wasn't all lazy).
Fathers don't complain. They don't come home and tell everyone how great they are because they made it possible for everyone to eat dinner that night. They don't ask us to tell them how wonderful they are. They don't whine when somebody else has taken the last drumstick and left them with only a wing. They don't require homage.
Instead, they play with their children. They make sure that if there are seven people and six cookies, everyone else gets a cookie. They listen to tales of everyone else's day without once interrupting with tales of their own. They are happy we have gone to the pool. And they read their children stories. Because they like to.
Because they are fathers. And that's what fathers do.