A Dad At Sea

vox.adadatsea: Hear me read this post…

When I was my son’s age, I gave no more thought to becoming a father than my son does, and, honestly, I gave little thought to my father either.  He was part of my life’s furniture, another given in an existence that felt too full of givens.

But living is revision.  In my own role as a father, I’ve scrutinized his decisions and now I wonder how, further along, my children might see mine.  I can only hope they’ll be charitable.  I’ve had to be charitable.  No one is perfect, we all know that, and parenthood is a choppy sea of worries, expediencies, negotiations, and dubious standards.  It’s hard to know if your navigation is true.  It’s hard to know when the journey ends.

As I was running the other day, I overheard a bit of conversation between two people on the sidewalk.  One was saying, “But she’s such a great parent….”   Without knowing whom she was talking about and in what situation, I shouldn’t judge—it’s always dangerous to judge another parent—but I continued my run thinking, “Who can say anyone is a great parent?  Who decides and how?”

I take pride in my children’s accomplishments—they are good students, polite to adults, curious and creative in their thinking—but I can’t take credit.  Parenting isn’t easily assessed because it’s an ongoing concern you might reevaluate every thirty seconds.  I might ask whether I’ve been a good parent in the last week, in the last day, hour, or minute, but I have no finished products to appraise… and wonder if I ever will.  My children will go on to live their lives as I do mine, minute to minute, hoping some majority of those minutes are good.

Before the birth of my first child, a new father at work defined parenting as “An education in body fluids.”  On Father’s Day or Mother’s Day, we romanticize our roles—and perhaps we should pause to celebrate accomplishments—but I try to keep perspective.  My children aren’t clay.  They have bodies I can’t always move and minds I can’t always change.  From the moment they left their mother, their lives have been, at least in some measure, their own.  As they grow older, they make more and more decisions and more of those decisions are outside our control or knowledge.

That’s scary and makes being a great dad even more challenging.  Older parents say you have no choice but to trust the grounding you’ve given your children.  Sometimes that advice sounds like a rationalization for neglect.  And sometimes it sounds like the truth.  And it’s hard to know which it is this time.  But shouldn’t you hope that your children have witnessed enough affection and concern that they’ll think you’re worth hearing?

My son will be a high school senior in the fall, and my wife and I can’t help looking ahead to the next fall when, we hope, he will be leaving home and starting college.  That thought brings a new sea of emotions—anticipation and excitement but also anxiety and dread.  We don’t feel finished with him or his sister, and we don’t want to be.  Though each is evolving into autonomy, we are still hoping, in the next five minutes, to get our roles right.  We want to give our children reason to remember us charitably.  More than that, however, we hope to help them decide what it means to be good parents themselves.

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2 Comments

Filed under Doubt, Education, Essays, Father's Day, Home Life, Hope, life, Meditations, Memory, Parenting, Thoughts

2 responses to “A Dad At Sea

  1. Beautiful post. Have your kids read this? I hope so. Hope you had a nice Father’s Day, too.

    Thank you. I had a great day, but, no, I didn’t have my kids read this post. They find it embarrassing that I’d mention them at all and, besides, they know me. They always say they’ve heard it all before and are very tough to impress.

    Thanks for visiting. —D

  2. MCG

    Sometimes I think we’re more tethered to our parents than we’d like to admit. Although whether it’s nature or nurture (genetics or parenting), I’m not sure.

    I know I look like my mother. Mostly because everyone tells me so. And we’re both relentless worry-warts. My mother denies this. “Oh,” she says, “you’re much prettier than I am. And much more socially adept.” But mostly, as people like to say, we’re so similar we could be sisters.

    And I inherited my father’s intellectual snobbery. (Neither of us buys a book without the NYT stamp of approval.) His sense of humor, too. His appreciation for lowbrow comedy. His love of clothing. And his unrepentant sentimentality.

    We could do worse, I suppose. After all, what’s wrong with turning into your parents? Especially if your father is as amazing as you are.

    (I hope you caught the compliment in the last line. The “you”s got a bit confusing.)

    P.S. One last thing I got from my mother: the gift of guilt. As such: when are you going to write me a proper e-mail?

    So now that I have sent you an e-mail, I guess I can respond.

    It’s fun to think about where what came from. I’m very grateful to my father for my love of visual art–looking AND doing–and my sneaky sense of humor.

    In looks, I favor my mom, and I’m not always happy to admit that my talkativeness comes from her as well. We both go on and on. Maybe my interest in haiku and poetry is compensation.

    My son is a far more talented visual artist than I am, and my daughter is a wonderful writer. In both cases, I’m sure it’s not genetic. It’s more that being those things is okay (and even admirable) in this house. From my wife, they get boundless energy, determination, and ambition. I’m especially happy for her contribution. Sometimes I worry that every trouble they have comes from my side.

    In the end, it’s more mystery than science or art… as it should be. We are all ourselves in the end. —D

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