In my brief experience as a father the only thing I’m truly certain of is that nothing can adequately prepare you for being a parent. I’m nearly just as certain that the furthest thing to prepare you from being a parent are the stereotypical “Good Dad Moments” that are part of our popular culture. I’m not talking about the wise-cracking toddler, raising her thumb and saying “You got it, dude.” amid the canned laughter. I’m not talking about the “cue the sad music because here comes a lesson from Mike Brady” scenes. I’m not talking about any singular moment of reflection or lessons learned or tragedy averted or skinned knee mended. I’m talking about the mere idea that fatherhood is this containable novelty that can simply be visited from time to time, that not only pop-culture but culture in general seems to perpetuate. It’s my experience that (to misquote Carlton Banks) a father isn’t what I’m trying to be, it’s what I am. It’s what I am all the time, it’s up to me whether that reality is going to consist mostly of joy or chaos. The reality is that it’s a healthy mix of both.
Before we had Jack, there was a rose-colored idea of what parenting might be like. We’d attempted to acquire the knowledge, and some of that truly did help, but it in no way prepares you for the day you’re installing the carseat and the sudden realization dawns on you that you’re supposed to, expected to, actually take this child home from the hospital. You’re responsible for the life of a human being other than you’re own now. It was a task I was not initially up to. I had a lot of learning to do, before I was going to actually start teaching. I thought that I’d still be able to pursue everything that I pursued before I was a father. I was wrong, and it took me a little while to realize that it was okay. I thought that I’d only HAVE to be a dad when I needed to be, and that the rest of the time I would just be George. The result of this type of attitude was that I’d become resentful whenever my “Dadlife” would infringe upon my “George” life. I didn’t understand that there is absolutely no such thing as getting a break from being a parent. All that means is that some one else is doing your job.
The sad reality is that for a while I tried to escape my reality. My reality of being a father, of being a husband, of simply being. I don’t do that anymore. I face reality full on and if I get scared I simply move through it and you’ll usually catch me smiling on the other side. Also, those “TV dad moments” do happen, but they are few and far between. I’ve come to find that a lot of them don’t involve some profound introspective lesson learned about myself as a man. In fact, I’d say most of my so-called “Victories of Fatherhood” come from simply a lack of screwing up a situation entirely. The moments when you surprise, and yes, sometimes even praise yourself for being what you are actually supposed to be: a good parent. They come when I am amazed I got through a day without raising my voice or I sit in the car and let out a sigh after another successful trip to the zoo. They come when me and another parent have successfully negotiated the sharing of a truck at the park. For a moment, we feel as through we’ve averted a nuclear crisis and there’s a mutual nod of understanding. They’re quiet, personal victories. Not the things that songs will be written about, but the minutiae of American Parenting that make you feel like you’ve successfully done your job. The dishes are done. The boy has expended energy at the park. The house is not on fire. Awesome. Check. Now let’s watch an episode of Game of Thrones and go to sleep. Does that sound boring? God, it’s so not.
It’s not, because I haven’t mentioned what I get a whole lot of: the tiny moments. There are SO many of those. I don’t know what else to call them but “the tiny moments” because they are so small, so easily overlooked but, oh, so abundant. They’re when he farts and laughs. They’re when he jumps over a crack in the sidewalk. They’re when he falls flat on his face and reaches up for you. They’re when you realize that he’s said “Yes?” with a question mark for the first time and that things will now be different. They’re the time they look you in the eyes and you feel as if the whole world is about to fly off its axis because of how tremendously happy the existence of this being makes you. They’re the knowledge that, even if nothing else goes right that day, you have helped to add to the world and that this human being will go on to have experiences and interactions. He will love and hurt. He will smile and cry. He will laugh and he will scream with terror. He will get to feel and others will feel because of his actions, all of it perhaps long after you are gone from this world. The tiny moments. So small. So universal. So rewarding. They are there for the relishing, and I am intent on spotting each and every one as they come with a silent “thank you” to whatever it is that deems me worthy of this quiet, simple, unexpectedly wonderful life.
Thanks for taking the time to be with me. Be well.