When we were 18 and 19, my (future) husband traveled to my hometown with me because we were in a band together and were playing a concert in town. He stayed with some of my mom's friends.
"You'll marry that man," my mom's friend told me on the last day.
It was before I was even interested in him THAT way, so I shook my head. "No way," I said. "We're just friends."
My mom's friend shrugged. "OK," she said. "But you're going to marry him. Want to know how I know?"
Of course I wanted to know how someone knew who my future husband would be.
"Because of that," she said.
She pointed at him, sitting in the middle of a circle of children. They were all giggling hysterically, and when he stood up, they followed him like the Pied Piper.
Two years later, I did marry him.
In the eight years we have parented our six boys, I have watched him grow into one of the best fathers I've ever known. He has taught me how to be a better parent, because it all comes so naturally to him.
He has taught me:
1. Giggles are never too costly. He will do anything in the world to elicit giggles from his children. He will try to break dance on the carpet, tripping over his own feet. He will bound around the room on his hands and feet like a daddy gorilla. He will read stories, replacing certain words with their names ("Shaggy dog, waggy dog. Pencil-thin and Jadon dogs.") He will trip himself on purpose or run into a wall. He will turn them upside down to walk on the ceiling or ask about their feelings in a robot voice. There is never a price too high.
2. There's no such thing as an embarrassed parent. When his son picked Treasure Island as his birthday party theme, my husband borrowed a pirate costume from his brother and stole my black eyeliner to rim his own eyes and read A Pirate's ABC with a roughened-sailor accent to the delighted screeches of all the kids gathered in our living room. When one son started dancing in the middle of the grocery store because his jam came on over the loudspeaker, my husband joined him. When another son melted on the mulch of the neighborhood playground because he wasn't ready to go home yet, my husband bent beside him and acknowledged his feelings before reminding him of what he was expected to do next, instead of walking away and pretending that child wasn't his (which is exactly what I did).
3. Stories are much more fun when they are told in accents. My husband reads to his boys every night before they go to bed, and it's not unusual for me to hear an Englishman reading Imagine a Day or a Spanish man reading Skippyjon Jones or a dopey man reading The Book With No Pictures. When we're reading Elephant and Piggie books, he has different voices for all the characters. He uses his hands. He makes it a show. He says I'm the reason they love to read, but the truth is, he has made books come alive for them. They love reading because of his theatrics.
4. Play is so much better than work. My husband has passed over good jobs because he wouldn't be home in time for family dinner. He has turned down promotions. He has limited work-from-home hours because he wants to protect family play time after dinner, when he'll run around the cul-de-sac playing kickball or trying to get a kite in the air or chasing all the kids for an epic game of tag. When it's raining, he pulls out Jenga and Monopoly and Battleship or makes up his own game of charades. His boys know their relationship is more important than what work their daddy could have done instead.
5. Kids are not too young to add value to the world. So many kids feel like they have nothing to offer the world, but my husband lets our boys and their friends know they do. He encourages their creativity. He makes up secret codes with them. He designs the book covers for the books they've written. He lets them use all the computer paper to make paper airplanes they'll sell in their art stand out front. He writes silly songs with them. He teaches them and he lets himself be taught by them. He believes in them, and he teaches them to believe in themselves.
The other day, we were leaving a meeting when all five of the potty-trained boys announced that they needed to go potty. I rolled my eyes, because it happens EVERY time, but my husband laughed and raced them out of the car.
They were walking up wooden stairs, the boys behind him and all around him, and I saw the same picture I'd seen 14 years ago, all these kids gathered around him just because they love being near a man like him.
I couldn't help but smile, because it's plain to see the love he has for them and the love they have for him and the rock of a relationship that has been building since they slid into his life.
How fortunate I am that my boys have a daddy like him.