Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Father's Day, lessons for an older dad

About seven years back I found myself an expectant father, much to my surprise. It happened right about the time in my life I had given up hoping that it would ever happen for me, a time when many of my friends were starting to think about becoming grandparents.

I did all the enlightened modern father things, I went to birthing classes (in a language not my own) and trained to be a “birth coach.”

Thankfully when the time came, the (female) staff made me step aside, hold my wife's hand and let the pros handle it.

For the next few years I would have these “fatherhood moments,” when it would just hit me right between the eyes, “Omigod, I'm a FATHER!”

Then about the time I'd adjusted to the idea, my wife informed me we were going to be parents again.

This time my son and I were both there, holding hands while he offered helpful advice like, “Don't worry Mommy, it's only a baby.”

So it started all over again. From time to time, out of the blue, it would just hit me, “Omigod I'm the father of TWO children!”

I wonder if fathers of big families ever get over that?

So there I was, an old dog trying to learn new tricks, the same way a dog learns – by getting my nose rubbed in it. So what did I learn?

Same things every other dad does I guess.

To begin with, dads and moms are not interchangeable.

Since both of us were English teachers when our son was born in Warsaw, my wife and I decided to structure our schedules so I'd teach my business classes in the morning and she'd put the baby down for a nap and go teach her pre-schoolers in the afternoon. Very modern, very enlightened.

Except that when a six-month-old baby wakes up early from a nap, daddy is NOT good enough. I'd hold the baby while he cried inconsolably – until my mother-in-law came by after work and the baby would turn off the faucet and gurgle and coo at the sight of grandma.

Second thing I learned was, no matter how much an enlightened male helps out with housework, diaper changes and child minding, fatherhood is not and never will be, as physically exhausting as motherhood.

After the birth of our second, I had another horrified realization. I was always pretty sure I had a handle on raising a boy, based on the (subsequently confirmed) theory that he'd be a lot like me, personality-wise. That is, he'd be a bright, healthy, active, smart-mouthed little hellion – and I'd have to keep a close rein on my temper when I got the backtalk. Simple.

When our daughter was born, it hit me that I had absolutely no idea how to go about raising a daughter. Zero, zip, nada. Worse still, I've begun to suspect it doesn't gets any better.

And what surprised me most, I found I'd become dreadfully afraid of the effects of our culture on our kids. I mean trashy TV shows, video games, and idiot foul-mouthed celebrities with too much money, too little sense, and entirely too much attention paid to them.

I discovered I'd gone from being a hipster to a square. You know, four corners, L – seven.

A while back I had a conversation with a friend with more experience at this fatherhood thing. He's got three kids, all older than mine.

I told him, “Man, sometimes I think all I can do is to give my kids parents who love each other and love them.”

He replied, “Sometimes it's all you can do. But sometimes it's enough.”

Note: This appeared on the editorial page of the Valley City Times-Register. In 2009 it won First Place for Personal Column - Serious, in the North Dakota Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest, in the category of 12,000 or less circulation.


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