On Father’s Day 2006, three confessions.
Confession No. 1: I have no idea what I’m doing as a parent. This isn’t something I’ve just grasped, I’ve known it since January of 1998 when C was born. I don’t know if I knew it before he was born, but the second his furry, misshapen head appeared, I knew I was in a world of trouble. Parenting seems like something that should come second nature once you’ve been doing it for a while, or once that second…and third…and fourth come along, but it hasn’t. Not for me anyway. I have often thought that if at any time during a moment of life lesson instructions or disciplining, if any of the kids turn to me and say, “You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?” then I would have to admit that they’d called my bluff and we would be on equal footing, and chaos would reign.
I’m like Luke Skywalker jousting with that floating orb and the kids keep shooting problems at me while I deflect them as quickly and accurately as I know how. And it feels like I’m dealing with the kids blindfolded, the way Luke was, and not with a light saber (which would make parenting so much easier) but with a spoon of peanut butter and the TV remote. As I take a swing at whatever difficulties they throw my way, all I can hope is that there is no ricochet, which hits them in the forehead, causing irreparable damage. How do we know if we’re helping our kids or harming them? I had a conversation with a friend earlier and he suggested that it would be 20 years before we know if we did a good job as parents. By then our children will be in careers, married and possibly with kids of their own. Or they’ll be serial killers. It feels like these are the two options and they’re based on whether or not I fed the kids enough (or any) vegetables, whether or not they watched too much Sponge Bob and whether or not I told them I love them every day before going to work.
Confession No. 2: I’m 35 and had a fourth child born three weeks ago, and I am only just now admitting to myself that I may never have the opportunity to circumnavigate the globe alone on a 32-foot sloop. You can call it maturity or you can call it a mid-life crisis if you like, though I was planning on living to 120, so the timing seems a little off. I am just starting to realize, too, the fruitlessness of my dream to play bass for The Attractions, backing up Elvis Costello, not so much due to my lack of talent and rhythm, or not knowing Costello personally, but because I don’t have the time to tour or practice what with getting the kids up and off to school, baths, feedings, etc. I may not find the time, either, to write my novel, direct a play, race in the Tour de France or perform stand-up comedy…all dreams of mine. But as quickly as I’m realizing all of this, I am just as quickly thinking that it’s okay, and I’ll give you four reasons: C, JP, S & GK.
My male point of view on childbirth is that mothers have a built-in bonding process what with carrying the child for nine months, pushing it out and then breastfeeding. But the whole situation is very unnatural for fathers. It has to be learned and it has to be learned quickly. The first thing we learn is that nothing is about us anymore – time, food, entertainment, boobs – nothing. It’s up to us to consciously see that the kids fill in the gaps, which takes a certain amount of effort, as gruff as that may sound, but soon enough we want them filling in those gaps. I know fathers who didn’t make time for their kids as they were growing and, subsequently, they lost them once they were grown. I can’t imagine not being in contact with mine every day. The best part of my day still is walking in the house from work and hearing the chorus, “Daddy’s home!”
Confession No. 3: I really like the way the mini-van handles. It’s one of the most comfortable rides I’ve ever had. This “confession” doesn’t really mean anything, but I just thought I’d throw it in there.
All in all, I think I’m doing a pretty damn good job. I have three smart, funny and happy young children, and one healthy newborn. All of this despite Confession No. 1, and the everyday frustrations and puzzles of fatherhood. My partner in crime, Kristy, is the major part of the children’s development, I know. I’m just here as back-up and to do the best I can with what I’m equipped with, mainly a stern look, a sense of humor and the knowledge of where the extra batteries are for the TV remote. But no light saber…not yet, anyway.