Single dads: graded on a curve

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The weirdest thing about traveling as a single dad with kids is that people want to pin medals on you for simply being a parent. 

“Is it just you?” a woman asked me while eating dinner at Yosemite the other night, wondering if it’s possible that I’m on a vacation with kids without their mother around.

“Yep,” I said. 

“Oh, my, well isn’t that wonderful!” she beamed. As if it was some sort of major accomplishment that I left my home with my kids. 

And that’s before you realize how easy my kids are to travel with. They’re 12 and almost 11, and are basically self-sufficient beings, requiring little if any work to mind. Once you can say “you two hang here, I’ll be back in 15 minutes,” the hard part is over. In the past week – and for basically the last year or so – I’ve said that at swimming pools, hotel rooms, baggage carousels, restaurants and national parks with zero anxiety attaching. They’re mature and responsible and they’re at a pretty manageable age. Yet, to some, I’m Father of the Year for daring to leave the house without their mom or a nanny or a grandparent to help me. God, what a curve dads are graded on!

It’s somewhat embarrassing, actually. It always has been, both when traveling or when simply doing other dad things like shopping or taking them to the movies or going to school functions or what have you. It’s especially embarrassing in light of what I saw yesterday. 

We were on the shuttle bus from Badger Pass to Glacier Point in Yosemite. On the bus was a woman with six kids, ranging in age from 11 down to maybe 18 months. They weren’t the best behaved kids I’ve ever seen. Some of them were kind of wild and crazy and hard to deal with. The woman was pretty zen about it all, though, neither leaning too far into letting them be free range monsters nor going too far into some frazzled “I MUST rein in my kids!” mode. She did what she could and rode out what she couldn’t control. The bus ride would end. The day would end. No sense in freaking out too much. 

I ended up talking to her for a while. She’s from Modesto and came up to Yosemite on a day trip. Her husband had to work and this seemed like a good way to pass a long hot day with the kids, especially once she realized that her one-year pass for the national parks expired this weekend. She home schools them too, and she figured she could shoehorn in some science lessons for the older ones out of this somehow. If some wildness on the bus was the price to pay for it, so be it. 

No one thought to give her pats on the back for simply being a mom the way people give me pats on the back for simply being a dad. Indeed, I’m guessing more people were judging her harshly for the behavior of some of her kids rather than marveling at how much energy and patience it takes for a woman to bring six kids with her on a long ride to a national park by herself. I didn’t go out of my way to pat her on the back either – it would’ve been condescending to do that, I felt – but I did talk to her for a while about kids and travel and the views from Glacier Point and stuff. She probably gets a lot of “Six kids?! Oh, my!” talk from people. Based on my own experience, just talking to another grownup about grownup stuff is better than any sort of praise you get for dealing with your kids. Which is your goddamn job, thank you very much. 

Later in the evening Anna, Carlo and I were sitting at a picnic table at Half Dome Village eating our dinner. The table could hold five or six and it was crowded, and eventually a woman came up to our table and asked if there were three spots available for her, her husband and daughter. “Sure,” I said. “Oh, thank you,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if you were holding this for your wife.” I told her that it was just us and that they were welcome to sit down. We made some small talk about where we were from, what we had done on our trips and things like that.

Then, a few minutes later, she made a point to tell me how great a dad I was for traveling with my kids without a woman to help me. 

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Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the national baseball writer for NBCSports.com. He writes about things other than sports at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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