Our youngest daughter comes to our room as my wife and I embrace as we do when we are sleeping, before we wake. She knocks politely. "Can I come in?" she asks in her sleepy, intentionally cutesy voice. "Sure, hun," my wife says groggily. Already, I can feel it in me: frustration. I know what happens next. She'll crawl into bed on my wife's side to snuggle with her. It's the same on all weekend mornings. She'll spend 20-30 minutes there, even if her other three siblings are up and playing. She'll lie with her and ask all manner of questions, whatever comes to her mind. She's not one to suffer silence, so there's very little quiet. It's nonstop, and I find myself getting more flustered.
As the day progresses, our little girl, all of 9 years of age, will come back every few minutes and touch base with my wife. "Mom," "Momma," "Mommy" are all said repeatedly and mid-conversation, as if her mother has stopped paying attention to what she's saying. Sometimes she'll say "Mooommmaaaaaa..." and then claim she forgot what she was going to say, when she really was just wanting her mom's attention fixated on her. I am getting more aggravated, and eye rolls are deployed at a regular rate to match my building exasperation.
Later still we're sitting on the couch, and she comes to her mom again and crawls on her like a jungle gym, never mind that she's two-thirds as tall as my wife and cannot comfortably (for either of them) lie on her anymore. Yet there she is, sprawled across my spouse like she's a wee babe nestled on her bosom. At this point, I'm hard-pressed not to utter the phrase, "Your mom is not something you crawl on like you're at a playground. You're 9 years old, not 5." I actually do say things like this once in a while, which immediately elicits a "Sorry" from her and a dejected posture as she slides off of her perch on her mom.
The look my wife gives me when I say this sort of thing is so easy to interpret without words. It says, "What the hell is your problem?" Although capital letters and a neon sign would be more apt to apply to that look.
Really? What is my problem? Why do I keep getting more aggravated and borderline angry at my daughter, who is doing nothing more than craving attention from her mom?
The ugly simple truth: I'm jealous of her. I'm jealous of the time and attention she gets from the woman I love and am married to. I selfishly want all of the attention myself. I do not want to share it. She's mine, I think, so I should get all of her consideration.
When I came to this realization, I literally wanted to smack myself. What kind of man actively tries to foil his daughter's attempts to spend time, share conversation and enjoy physical connection with the lady who gave birth to her? A selfish one, that's what kind. She's only trying to feel and express and revel in the closeness of her relationship with my wife. And I'm stupidly trying to sabotage it.
The great thing about epiphanies like this: you can change your behavior. You can embrace your flaws, acknowledge them. Then you learn how to deal with those flaws, and change how you react. You can make things better. I can make this better. Not for myself, but for my wife and our other children. I can transform from selfish to selfless, like it should be. I can create an environment where love and feelings and connection flourish. Where openness reigns.
That does not make me a hero of any sort. It simply makes me a better father. And certainly less of a douchebag.
Jealousy can be lots of things. It can be a show of how much you love someone and desire to protect them. It can also be a horrid thing where you envelop them instead of trusting them and letting them grow into themselves. It can fan the flames of love, or quell them under its oppressive blanket of smothering. One place it should not be is squarely between your children and your significant other. You trust them with your heart and your life. Surely you can trust them with your security and peace of mind that you will get the attention and love you crave, all in due time. Patience should trump jealousy when you let it.
By changing this inane feeling towards my daughter, my eyes were opened to the fact that she wasn't craving that contact with just my wife; she wanted it with me too. Now we snuggle together, talk and joke and laugh. The focus is back where it should be: on her needs and allowing her to be herself.
I'm really liking this selfless thing. I think I'll keep myself this way.
This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project.