Kids in camo: Some things are different under Dad’s care

Illustration by Ally Hodges Illustration by Ally Hodges

When my sons were in their mother’s belly, they had no idea their first few years would be so different than their peers’. That instead of lazy mornings spent with Mama and her friends and their kids, they would be subjected to daddy day care or, as I called it, “baby boot camp.”

This was especially so for my first son. As is often the case with the initial offspring, he was a guinea pig for my warped ideas of parenthood. For instance, I decided early on that I did not want a boy like the ones outfitted by their mothers in matching plaid shirts and shorts. At the slightest bump or scrape they would collapse into sobs.

No, mine would be tough, a 21st century Huck Finn.

So I’d adorn him in camouflage and take him to the creek to throw rocks or to the woods by our house to hike a trail. There was never any command to stay away from puddles, either. Hell no—jump in them all you want, get dirty and wet. And there was wrestling, a lot of it. Sometimes, I would hurl him a little too hard. “Ooomph,” he’d utter, pause for a second, then attack, running and jumping with his knees pulled to his chest like he was about to deliver a cannonball, not to a swimming pool but to my belly. At some point, he graduated to just kicking my ribs.

There was also just the simple reality of spending hour after hour with my anxiety-ridden self, an unenviable task for anyone. From this whole experience, B could have easily emerged an uncultured roughneck in need of anger management, but four-and-a-half years later, my oldest son has turned out surprisingly well. Independent and resourceful, with a defiant streak (especially when it comes to me), his development has assuaged the initial concerns of those all around us.

They weren’t the only ones who worried. I spent a lot of my early years with my dad, too, and I don’t think I emerged completely unscathed. It’s made me ponder the influence I might have on my sons, even as I watch what’s transpired so far. How to be active in your child’s life without leaving the equivalent of a carbon footprint?

So with my second one, I’ve taken a step back and just tried to let him be. As a result, little G—at 18 months and counting—would probably fit in with most boys reared by their mothers. The only thing that differentiates him is the clothes I put him in, since I occasionally delight in dressing him like he’s in an indie rock band. Nothing matches to the extent that it almost does: a sky blue stocking cap paired with blue and green flannel, orange cargo pants, and baby blue Crocs with red striped socks underneath—the only obvious sign that this boy is raised by his dad.