Before the storm: Dennis and Erin Pinto, back, enjoy their staycation with Elliott and Margot Sullivan, front.

By Tim Sullivan

We dads work pretty hard and sometimes recognition can be difficult to come by.  This past Father’s Day, it all came to fruition for me, though. I was given a paper plate ornament that read “You’re the Best Dad, Hands Down” in Elliott’s nascent handwriting. He added his handprints to lend authenticity, lest anyone in future generations try to pass it off as their own. I tried to remain humble but the truth is I was over the moon with the accolade.

But only those of us who occupy such great heights can comprehend a fall from grace so steep. Mine came on Labor Day. We had a great weekend, a “staycation” to use the vernacular of cash-conscious urbanites everywhere.  Grandma Pat and Aunt Mary visited from New Jersey and Mary brought her four children, which cranks my kids up to Coca-Cola and Pop Rocks levels of excitement. We hit the pool, had a barbeque, went to the Children’s Museum, Leapin’ Lizards, Game-X and rode the Skyview Ferris Wheel. All in all a great weekend, except it had to end at some point and guess who had the job of sounding the gong – the “Best Dad,” that’s who.

Tuesday morning meant back to school and work, so this particular Monday night felt like the mother of all Sunday nights. After relying solely on the pool to bathe our children for three days we felt compelled to introduce some soap into the equation. And bedtime was going to be roughly three hours earlier than staycation norm, which had featured nightly airings of Teen Beach Movie and an all-you-can-eat cookie policy for the kids, while the adult-folk sat on the porch, drank wine and solved the world’s problems.

For some reason (and any of you child psychologists can feel free to chime in here) the kids protested this reversion back to our regular schedule. Who knew?  Turns out they didn’t care much for the bathing or the reading of books or the going to bed early. Ensemble, our family was explosive so we decided to divide and suffer. Kristen took Margo and I took Elliott. Somehow, the girls managed through a spirited debate, a rough-seas bath and a collective passing out from exhaustion in Margo’s bed.

With Elliott I was determined to stake calmer ground. Let the record show that I was supportive and understanding. Conversely he, was bat-poop crazy.  Doors were being slammed, toys were being hurled and all attempts at reason were met with wails of “It’s not faiiiirrrr!”  After an hour of mental jousting, there was no bath and there were no pajamas. No teeth were brushed, no books were read and Elliott and I weren’t even in the same room anymore. This one will hold a special place in the annals of epic Sullivan meltdowns.

I advised Elliott that he would need to put himself to bed. Soon after, he coldly walked into my room, swiped my “Best Dad” award from the wall and exited. Five minutes later he came back, returned the paper plate to its perch, and left again. The word “Best” was crossed out and replaced with “Wurest in the wred” (“worst in the world”). Obviously, the tantrum had adversely affected his typical brilliance in the spelling arena, too.

I have to admit, it stung.  I lay in bed reviewing my precipitous fall over the past two months and vacillated from guilt over letting the kids get so woefully off-schedule to feeling underappreciated; a boob housemate with a driver’s license and a wallet. It may have been a sleepless night were it not for the remorseful, pajama’d boy, age six, that curled up in bed next to me fifteen minutes later. When I started to ask him about the Best Dad plate, he cut me off, “I’ll make a new one” and snuggled in tighter. It was the best feeling in the world, hands down.

Tim Sullivan grew up in a large family in the Northeast and now lives with his small family in Oakhurst. He can be reached at tim@sullivanfinerugs.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

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