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Cory M. Baker Headshot

Dear Less-Than Perfect Dad

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I was deeply inspired and moved by Lea Grover's blog entitled "Dear Less-Than-Perfect Mom" on April 30th and with full credit to her and incredible moms everywhere, I was moved to offer these thoughts from a dad.

Dear Dad,

I've seen you around. I've seen you yell and threaten your kids at the park or on the ball field, I've seen you on your BlackBerry when you should have been watching them. I've seen you trying to offer a disarming smile at strangers when they look at you with a critical eye.

I've seen you hurdle park benches and passing dogs as you leap with almost supernatural speed to your 5-year-old's side after he's fallen off his bike. I've seen you apply Band-Aid-based medical attention with a tenderness you didn't realize you had. I've seen you tie your daughter's French braid with no skill whatsoever, but with such affection and effort that she smiles and loves it anyway.

I've also seen you lose your cool when you should have been calm. I've seen you get angry at silly things, like your son's unwillingness to properly learn the rules of Candy Land, or the way your teenager wears her iPod in the car. I've seen you curse and then upset yourself at how easily those words came out.

I've seen you miss that school play. I've seen you show up late for her recital. I've seen you looking sad and embarrassed.

I've seen a lot of you, actually.

I see you every single day.

I don't know if you planned on being a parent or simply gave in to the pressures and constant begging of your spouse. I don't know if you finally feel fulfilled or if you miss your single years more often then you should. I don't know if you grew up with a great father figure you seek to admire and model yourself after or if you try to combat the lessons and experiences of your childhood.

But I know a lot about you.

I know you still wish you could be more. Do more. Provide more. I know you wanted to be in a better place at this point in your life. I know you doubt whether the few moments you have to see them in the mornings before work and in the evenings when you often miss bedtime is enough to give them what they need from you. Or give you what you need from them. I know you are doing better than you think.

I know that sometimes, when you look into your child's eyes, tears well up in your own and you don't always know why. Are they tears from happiness, fear, guilt or sadness?

I know you want to smack them after a fresh-mouthed response or a slamming door in your face. And I know how bad you feel when you realize how close you were to doing it. Or having done it.

I know that some nights you feel alone, even when everyone is home. I know that sometimes you don't rush to get home even though you should.

I know that balancing work, a demanding boss and the constant financial pressures in life leave only a shell of yourself to show your kids. I know you force a smile when you just want to scream and how you tell your kids and your wife 'it's alright' even when it's not.

I know when you put them to bed and snuggle up under their covers you wish you never had to do anything else. I know how you tell them you love them so much you wonder if they've grown annoyed at those three words for which you wait the whole day to say. I know sometimes you say it a few more times before leaving because you hope it will somehow replace the time you lost while you were on that business trip. And I know how you wish that last hug before you leave for the airport lasted forever.

But it never does. The moment passes, the work starts, the emails come in and you wonder the point of it all.

You take care of things because it's your job. You fix the deck, you clean the garage you mount the new TV and mow the lawn, all when you wish you could just sleep one more hour. You take your daughter to ballet, your son to karate and your wife grocery shopping all on the same day that even G-D himself supposedly rested.

You play with them like there is no tomorrow. You get more engaged in their games than even they are. You've become the most skilled Jedi with a plastic light saber in all of the galaxy. You remember Barbie's friends' names better than you recall those of co-workers. You break the rules when Mom is out and make them popcorn and ice cream with late night TV when they should be sleeping. You secretly hope these things make up for when you can't always be there.

I know you didn't expect most of this. I know you never realized how this incredible amount of love and stress and self-doubt could all stem from even one small child in your life. I know you wish you could do it better. Calmer. Smarter. But you can't. You usually will make the same mistake again and again.

You thought it would play out differently. You thought that trip to Disney would be all fun, all day. You can't believe something you planned just for them could result in so much screaming and fighting. You repeat "we're here for you" as if they care. You try to forgive and forget and convince yourself other kids are also this bratty and spoiled too.

You're not a perfect dad. No matter how you try, no matter what you do. You will never be a perfect dad.

And maybe that haunts you, maybe you've accepted it or maybe you just hope their mom will fill in the blanks.

No matter how much you give there's never enough and no matter how much you may feel you failed today, your kids will always look at you as their hero. Because you're their dad and, in their eyes, you wear a cape and can fix every problem and heal every wound.

You are not perfect. And that's OK. Your neighbor, the guy with the new BMW who flies his family every Christmas to the Caymans, the guy who coaches little league and just redid his house, that guy... he's not perfect either. Your kids are smarter than you think. They know what's in your heart, they know why you work so hard and they understand your flaws. And most importantly they love you and admire you for them not despite them.

When they grow and have children of their own they may try to be different or better but when they take that trip to Disney World and catch themselves saying: "Stop your whining, we're here for you," they will instantly smile and realize how hard you tried, how much you gave them and for better or worse, how much of you lies within them.

A perfect life, a perfect child, a perfect dad. They don't exist. But you're likely pretty close to being the best version of you.

The Talmudic book aptly named "Chapters of Our Fathers" says that: "He who is rich is the one happy with his own lot".

So, the next time your teenage son slams a door, or your 9-year-old daughter tells you she hates you or you still have to miss that soccer game because your boss called you in on a Sunday, try and remember that this is life. It's your lot and at the end of the day, when you kiss those kids to bed, when you paint a Harry Potter lightning bolt on your head with your wife's mascara for Halloween, or when you flip those pancakes Saturday mornings, you are the greatest dad they will ever know and you've taught them more about life than you may ever realize. So long as you remain a part of their lives, you will always be a better father than you think you are.

Big props, dad,

Cory