The things that we’ve seen, indeed.
I was wholly unprepared to be a father before Jack was born. This isn’t necessarily a judgement on my character, although that was long overdue. I don’t think any one can possibly be prepared for what awaits. Some may have a more healthy mindset than others or a higher level of confidence, but even those tend to be dashed amid the endless pile of “well, no one told us about THAT” experiences that start to stack up.
It was only after leaning into the challenges, finding a flow that worked and continually suiting up and showing up that I could say I achieved any level of comfort in my parenting confidence. As I sit here now, I can say with a level of certainty that I am a good father. The only one ever calling that notion into question is me these days. The endless curse of insecurity I suppose. Whereas I used to bounce back and forth between thinking myself a horrible dad or the best dad, I now mostly end up in the healthy middle point. I’m pretty good and my kids are pretty amazing. Some one recently said to me “Hey, we love the crap out of the little shits. That is really the most important thing.” I tend to marvel at a person who can so succinctly sum up the things I tend to over complicate.
Now, upon the expectation of Charlie entering the picture, it’s fair to assume that I would think myself more prepared. I believe that I actually was actively fighting against such a notion. My line of thinking was that because I didn’t know what to expect last time I might as well just look at the whole situation as a always shifting ball of chaos that we will soon be leaping headfirst into. Sounds fun, right? So, when Charlie came and things where falling into place really well it took me off guard. This was kind of easy. Well, not easy, but it was not the insurmountable task that I’d been warned about of that I’d occasionally imagined. Things took more time, certainly and I was much more tired, but it wasn’t that bad. A lot of it was actually pretty good. Who would have known? The joys of raising multiple children are ACTUALLY joyful? I found myself, late at night, even pondering the idea of having ANOTHER kid. I come from a family of five, so does my wife. So, why not?
I don’t have those thoughts anymore.
I was viewing my fathering responsibilities through a smudged filter. I was so focused on what a handful the addition of Charlie might be, that I had not much considered how different things would get with Jack. I was certainly aware that he would react, in some way, to having another child in the house. Positive or negative, there was something coming. Now, I’ve talked BEFORE about Jack’s initial reactions to Charlie, so no need to harp on that. What I’d like to talk about now is my own reaction. As I said, the only one that questions my ability as a dad is me, and that’s a pointless spider-web that I’ve found myself tangled in more than I’d like the last few months. I’m not perfect, but I’ve always relied on a continual progress of myself in all areas of my life. I have rolled back a bit in the department of being Jack’s dad and I need to correct that course. I’ve witnessed a me that I find lacking and I don’t want to be that anymore.
Let me tell a quick story:
Yesterday, Jack was looking over my shoulder while he was giving me a hug. I could tell he was looking up at the framed photos of our family. I told him that those were pictures of people that all love each other. Mommy. Daddy. Charlie and Jack. He stopped me to tell me “I love Mommy and Charlie, but not you.”
I smiled and said “I love you, Jack.” Even this was, perhaps, more attention than I should have paid this comment. I gave him a big hug and he walked away. As he went he casually said: “I want to live with Mommy and Charlie only.” I don’t know exactly why this bothered me so much more than him saying he didn’t love me. Perhaps it’s because “love” is such an intangible concept that I’m not sure that Jack really gets it. Hell, I don’t know if I fully GET it. But to say he didn’t want to live with me. This was much more real, in both my mind and in his (I’m speculating, yes). He was actually saying he didn’t want me physically present. He didn’t want me to give him baths. He didn’t want me to read him stories at night. Didn’t want me to cook him eggs.
Now, yes, I know I’m reading too much into this. It’s fair to mention that this was a mere 10 minutes after Jack had hit his little brother and I had restrained him until he calmed down. I don’t know if THAT is the right thing to do. I know that I will not let him hit his brother and so it’s what I do. Sometimes I do dumb things and after Jack told me he didn’t want to live with me I did a dumb thing. I asked him “Why?” He turned back towards me and said, in the most innocent way possible, the worst thing I think he could have said to me at the time:
“Because you’re very mad.”
Oof. Yes. I’m giving Jack’s statements more power than they are due. The words of a 4 year old against a parent that had just disciplined him. But what words. He’s right. I am, at times, “very mad”. I have, lately and especially with Jack’s behavior, found myself in a position of sheer exhaustion. Exhaustion at what? I’m not sure. Just tired of certain things being the way that they are. I’m tired of cleaning poop out of my four year old’s diaper in the morning. I’m tired of his tantrums. I’m tired of being too lazy to take any meaningful steps towards remedying the situations that I don’t like. No, more honestly, I’m just tired of being patient for the results of the actions I DO take. So, sometimes, I can talk to my four year old as though he’s trying to make life hard. I can speak to him as though I’m just done with certain things. I’m done with the idea that he CANNOT do and get it into my mind that he must simply not WANT to. I do this on both a conscious and unconscious level. Now, even if this is a fraction of the time it is still a disservice. I am losing my patience. I am applying unreasonable expectations to my son and I’m some how upset when he doesn’t meet them.
I can, from the point of view of my four year old son, seem to be VERY MAD.
I don’t want to do that anymore. So I will not. I know what I get like when something is disturbing me and, thankfully, I know what I need to do to get undisturbed. It’s the most simple, yet not easy, principle in the universe: acceptance. If I do not accept what is going on at any given time, even if I don’t agree with it, then I am not going to find the happiness I need to carry onward in a useful way. If I decide to, instead, rail against reality as it is then it’s only a matter of time before I let the fact that things are not as I want get to me and I start acting like a creep. Whatever form that may take, even in the most subtle means imaginable. Even if the “creep” is only in my thoughts. I know better. I know a life lived on life’s terms and the happiness such a life elicits. A life where I take the action that is in front of me and I wait patiently for the results, knowing that doing so countless times before has enabled me to match calamity with serenity. I will clean up the poopy diapers until, through both his developement and our actions and guidance, he is able to go poopy in the potty. I will help him put on his pants until he is able to do so himself. I will continue as I have before, modeling graciousness and being the example of the behavior I’d like to see reflected in my son.
It seems that I have been down this road many times before. I am grateful that I end up here. This very appropriate position in which my son illuminates in me an opportunity for growth as a father and a person. It’d be nice if Jack continues to keep me on my toes in this manner. It would also be nice if it didn’t take such an extreme declaration next time as wanting me to move out. But, hey, acceptance right?