The ebb and flow of the dueling white noise on the baby monitor breaks the silence as it cycles between the cameras in my children’s room. The serenity of digitally created ocean waves is suddenly interrupted by the familiar cries of one of our children. My wife and I have now begun our game of sleepy chicken. Tonight, she lost. She headed in to rectify whatever has interrupted his slumber followed by an exhausted encore performance of his favorite dozen or so lullabies.

Then, through the monitor, I hear the three words that make me cringe: “I want Daddy!”

My distress at hearing these words has very little to do with shrugging my paternal responsibilities. While getting up in the middle of the night to take my kid to get a tissue for the 47th time isn’t ideal, there is nothing I love more than stroking one of my son’s hair as I gently sing him back to sleep. No, my distress at hearing those words comes from knowing that every time my wife hears them, her heart breaks a little.

Need to get dressed? “I want Daddy!”

Mom gets up early to let me sleep in a little, “I want Daddy!”

Walking from the car to Target, “I want to hold Daddy’s hand!”

Waffles for breakfast? “I want Daddy to do it!”

Bath time, “I want Daddy to do it!”

With each and every utterance of those word, I feel my wife’s heart crack just a little bit more. I can feel her worry about her connection to our children. I can feel her resentment of me.

At three years old, empathy is not my children’s strongest virtue. We talk about feelings. We talk about how when they cry for Daddy, when Mommy is trying to help, that it hurts Mommy’s feelings. They just don’t understand.

They don’t understand the sacrifices that she has made for them. They don’t know that while their dad, who travels for work, is gone roughly one month out of every three, their mother has never been away from them for a single night in their entire lives.

They don’t understand that every doctor’s appointment, every specialist and dentist appointment was scheduled by their mother. Every diaper, purchased by their mother. Every stage of their life, every issue they’ve had, the solution researched and implemented by their mother.

They were too young to remember their mother’s tears when she realized that she wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. They’re too young to remember that every bath taken the first year was given to them to her.

I don’t doubt that they love their mother, and I know that she doesn’t doubt it either. I try to make light of the situation. I tell her that it’s because I buy name brand toaster waffles while she buys the generic ones from Target. Yet when their excitement for ‘Mommy coming home for work’ pales in comparison to the reception I get when I walk through the door, I see her dry her eyes.

My wife is an amazing woman. She is a loving, involved, and dedicated parent. She spends her days educating other people’s children, to come home and be the best mother a child could ask for. She successfully navigates the stress and pressure that comes with raising a pair of rambunctious three-year-old heathens, all without a single tweet or blog post. She truly is an unsung hero.

The rational part of her brain tells her that one day her children will appreciate all she does for them, despite the heartache she feels with every “I want Daddy!” She knows that there will come a day that Daddy will no longer be the superhero in his sons’ eyes.

I can’t promise her when that day will happen, but I can promise her that I will always do my best to make sure that our children know just how much their mother loves them.

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