Caussey's Corner

I’m Staying on the Sidewalk, Daddy: Mistakes and Triumphs in Parenting

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The late afternoon sun was already shrouded in a thick bank of clouds. The temperature was dropping fast and northerly winds were picking up, bringing icy fingertips in its wake.

As I looked at the ominous Norther that was approaching fast, I quickened my pace to get the chores done. My five-year-old son Chad was providing me with company as I worked toward the tasks of watering and feeding the dogs and horses.

Chad was playing, thoroughly enjoying his daily outing with his dad. His shorts and shirt were thin, and would provide little comfort against the approaching weather. But I was working hard and needed only a few more minutes to bring in wood for the fireplace and throw the horses some more hay. Chad was yelling, ripping, and running. So in my zest for proper parent posturing, I ordered him in a most stern voice to stay on the sidewalk, keep quiet, and not try to talk to me. With facial expressions captured among harsh words and in my most authoritative voice I said, “Stay on that sidewalk and don’t get off of it until I tell you that you can.”

I'm Staying on the Sidewalk, Daddy: Mistakes and Triumphs in Parenting

Photo: envato elements

Minutes passed and the chores were completed. I hurried into the warm house to shower and enjoy some hot chocolate. Afterwards, I sat lounging in front of the fire, enjoying the fire’s glow as the mesquite wood made crackling sounds rivaling the howling wind.

My wife, Debbie, came in and asked where Chad was. I sprang out of the chair and flew out the door. The wind was liquid cold. I could see my breath as my heart pounded loudly in my chest. I went around the side of the house and look toward the kennel. There on the sidewalk that led to the kennel sat Chad. He looked up and smiled when he saw me coming.

“What are you doing out here?” I yelled. “I’m staying on the sidewalk,” came his reply.

I grabbed him and held him close. He was shaking and his teeth were chattering. His face was cold as I buried him inside my robe. I could feel his torturously cold ears up against my bearskin. Again he repeated. “I stayed on the sidewalk, Daddy.”

I'm Staying on the Sidewalk, Daddy: Mistakes and Triumphs in Parenting

Photo: envato elements

Over the years I have painfully thought about what I had done. It took me a long time to forgive myself. As I reflected back, I realized all the other parenting mistakes I must have made. There are always decisions for a dad to make. Some decisions were made correctly, while others became dismal failures. The hardest, most challenging job, and the one most neglected, is that of being a kind and loving parent. I look back on the raising of my children with much trepidation because of all the mistakes I made. Fortunately, even with all my imperfections, all three of my kids seem to have turned out well.

Today, Chad is a grown man in the proximity of his prime. He has a beautiful wife and they built a new home in Trophy Club, Texas. He completed his doctorate in chiropractic medicine and works for a medical center in Grapevine, Texas.

Years ago on Father’s Day, he told me I was going to be a granddad around Christmas time, I could hardly wait for the blessed day.

When Chad first told me about the little one on the way, his face glowed with pride. He began to reminisce about some of the things he had done growing up and what he and his child were going to do. He showed me the baby’s room with clothes for both a boy and girl.

I'm Staying on the Sidewalk, Daddy: Mistakes and Triumphs in Parenting

Photo: envato elements

When the first child comes along in a family, parents have little experience to draw from. Only what we experienced as children ourselves and what we may have casually observed in others can be used as a reference source. I tried to be a better parent than mine were, as I’m sure Chad will be a better parent than I was.

During the night when Chad was a baby, any little sound or cry from him brought quick reactions from his parents. Two pairs of feet would hit the floor instantaneously whenever he made a noise or cried. By the time the third child, Christopher arrived, he had to cry for thirty minutes and ask for help in at least two foreign languages before either his mother or I stumbled down the hall.

In about six months Chad would get a dose of what being a dad will be like. I hoped that he will remember some of the things I did right, and understand how easy it is to mess up. Maybe there will be a measurably increased degree of appreciation when he finds himself deciding what in his mind is best for the family. Because sometimes what is best for the family may not be what is best for him.

I could not be any more proud of my son than I am today. What grounded that devotion and love feeling for him was caused by an utterance on a cold November night over 40 years ago. When an all-trusting little boy smiled through cold, trembling lips and said, “I stayed on the sidewalk, Daddy.”

Durhl Caussey is a syndicated columnist writing for papers across America. He may be reached at this paper or [email protected].