McCOOK, Nebraska -- Considering all the times that Declan has informed me that he "learned nothing today," I am enjoying witnessing his academic progress. It is pretty incredible when you consider just a few months ago he had practically no reading ability, yet now I regularly catch him sitting on the floor of his room sounding out portions of words in books.
At bedtime he has begun interrupting my stories, stopping me and insisting I restart the page and read it again as he points to each word. As much as I am thrilled with his reading progress, I am not particularly fond of reading those pages multiple times, especially when I am very well aware that the only thing between me and putting my feet up on the couch for the day, is one bedtime story.
I do love having the ability to read to him each evening though and try to keep that in mind when I am short on patience. It is an experience that I wish I had been able to share with his older sister, who moved away from me when she was about Declan's age, after her mother and I divorced.
The heart-wrenching experience of missing much of her childhood still haunts me today and I would certainly credit it with the burning drive I have, to be as good a father to both of them as I possibly can be.
I was watching a TV show recently that studied the parenting practices of a certain penguin species and found myself surprisingly relating to the seabirds.
The documentary showed footage of how one penguin parent would walk for days across the ice to catch fish for the toddler penguin, while the the other nested on top of the youth to keep him warm. When one parent returned they would exchange roles and the other would begin their trek.
As the young penguin grew up he would eventually leave the nest and the footage shown of one of the parent penguin's stubbornly refusing to let that happen was priceless. Snatching him up and waddling him back to the nest, only to set him down and have him dash off again.
The penguin parents eventually conceded that they couldn't keep their toddler in the nest, but their work was far from over. They continued to trek back and forth for fish, only now delivering it to their offspring wherever the youngster may be.
The most interesting part to me, was that the teenage penguins that left their nest would always seek out other penguins of similar age to "hang" with. They were all incapable of feeding themselves and according to scientists had no proven means of communication amongst each other, but yet here they all were, chatting away and goofing off as they waited for their parents to deliver them their next meal.
If you have listened to the music-of-choice of our teens these days, or maybe just leaned over one's shoulder and read their Facebook messages back-and-forth to each other, I think you would probably agree that many scientists would struggle to prove that they have a discernible means of communication as well.
I like to think I can relate to both roles the penguin-parents filled. Nesting with my little guy some days, and spending others waddling after my 15-year-old daughter.
My waddling eventually drove me to move to McCook. As a single-parent with Declan at the time and no knowledge of the area, or job plan, it was a tense move to say the least. But one I am very thankful to have been able to make.
I have since tried on several occasions to snatch up my 14-year-old and return her to the nest, but each time she has waddled off to be with her friends. For now I will have to be content with reading stories to my little man and apparently re-reading certain pages at his request as well. I suppose it beats waddling for days on the ice with a mouthful of raw fish.