It’s a feeling I haven’t felt in some time; this tiny human clutching to my pant legs fearful that I am about to leave. “Daddy, you’re NOT a teacher, you’re a stay at home dad forever!” she cried out. She tells me this as I have one foot out of the door, the very same foot that is about to take the first step back to work in almost a decade.
For the past eight and a half years we have spent every waking moment together. So many times I walked that hallway in the pitch black tossing off my covers at the first sign of distress. I’d creep in the room with a minefield of toys, barely lit by a three- watt nightlight bulb to sometimes find her sound asleep or having night terrors. I’d brush the hair from her face with my hand and stroke her temple until she nuzzled it back. “Daddy is here” I’d whisper quietly and she would nestle down into the covers as if she were a tiny caterpillar in a cocoon.
Sometimes a mid-night cry was just her blanket coming off or the flu rearing its ugly head at the wee hours of the morning. There was always a certain comfort that came from her calling out to me in the night. As much as I complained at the time, I’m glad I was there.
Now, here I am walking away from her for the first morning in all that time a little bleary and teary eyed at the thought of being apart. Would she eventually accept that her dad, who has been there for flu shots, doctor’s appointments, emergency room visits and the like still always be there for her?
I used to live in track pants and a hoodie, the equivalent of a stay at home dad’s life to yoga pants and an over-sized sweater. And now, that I’m headed back to work, I’ve found a use for all those ties in my closet that have languished on the lonely tie rack unused and only taken out on Sundays. As cool as I look in ties as a teacher, I have to say that I miss my hoodie at bit. The transition for my daughter has also been tough. “Why are you dressed so fancy?” she asked quizzically. when she saw me after school. "Because I'm a teacher now, honey" I say as she skips alongside me to the car. "No you're not, you're a stay at home dad."
It’s hard to change what you know so quickly. Going back to work has been like a week old Band-aid ripped from the flesh; a little jarring but necessary. Sometimes when something becomes too familiar, it is time for a change.
And that’s what it feels like now when I pick up my daughter. That sensation I haven’t experienced since my older two kids were in daycare and I’d go to collect them. The way their faces would light up when they saw me and come running for my legs. That feeling came back to me today in a sea of elementary school kids when I called her name, she turned as if in slow motion, her eyes lighting up with comprehension and she came barreling towards my legs.
Some things are still familiar. The hugs are still the same and the love for each other will always be there. When I come home, I get back to what is familiar. I shed my work clothes and don my Russell Performance Fleece hoodie. It’s like a hug to my new self and a reminder that I have changed but that I’ll always still be myself.
It’s especially helpful when we are snuggled together on the couch, enjoying a book and some quiet time together. I still do lots of things in my hoodie that I used to do. I still do the girls' hair in the morning. I still cook our family meals and clean the house in it. I play Barbies in it and romp around in the snow.
It's what a Russell #Dadlete would do, donning the very thing that makes him confident in himself. I like mine because it's warm, it has a media cord solution for the times I am working around the house and most of all because it comes in Big and Tall sizes. I hate it when I find the right sized hoodie only to have it shrink up on me after one wash.
I wore it on our final Friday together with the old schedule, making the last symbolic snowman named Fred together in the front yard with snow that wasn't made for snowballs let alone snowmen. I watched her crawl around the front yard willing a fist sized snowball into a respectable base for Fred.
I got a chill watching her though it wasn't because of the hoodie at all. The interior lined fleece kept myself plenty warm while I made snow angels with her. I’d like to think that donning the Russell Performance hooded sweatshirt is a reminder to her that Daddy didn’t go anywhere and that he’s still here for her to keep her safe and warm.