Father’s Day

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

So hey, it’s nearly Father’s Day again. A day that is fraught for me — I know what stirs up the anx­i­ety and it’s mainly ig­no­rance at how well I’m do­ing my job.

I’ve cer­tainly writ­ten about it enough:

Being a dad is my fa­vorite thing and be­ing a sin­gle dad is a pretty tough job. I don’t know how much eas­ier it would be with a part­ner, so I don’t know how hard it is to be a dad in a nuclear/​whole fam­ily for­mat. The times I’ve had a part­ner that got to spend qual­ity time with my child, That third di­men­sion added a no­tice­able and healthy level of com­plex­ity to our lives. So I of­ten feel that that my father/​son dy­namic is two-di­men­sional in com­par­ison. We miss out on a lot to­gether be­cause I have to work, and main­tain a clean home, provide healthy meals, and struc­ture and adult in­struc­tion he doesn’t get else­where. I have a bit of guilt over this — I feel like the added level — that part­ner, that nu­clear fam­ily, is some­thing I should be able to provide to him.

Being a sin­gle dad is tough in weird ways. I’m not as self-con­scious as I was a few years ago about be­ing a sin­gle dad out with his kid. I don’t care — but I do no­tice the other sin­gle dads, and help out when I can by tak­ing pho­tos. I know those in­ter­nal mo­ments of cha­grin when you take a pic­ture of your kid do­ing some­thing mem­o­rable with no way to show that yes, you were there, you were the one to make it hap­pen. There also isn’t an emoji for sin­gle par­ents.

I also worry about him when he’s with his mom. We have di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed views on 99% of what is in his best in­ter­est. The only way to mit­i­gate is to lit­i­gate and I don’t make that kind of cash. I do my best to teach my son the skills he is not learn­ing else­where, and I must also keep rein on my­self so that I don’t try to over­com­pen­sate to solve for his other life.

I’m 20+ years out from hav­ing had any mean­ing­ful, non-far­ci­cal in­ter­ac­tion with my dad. I only have a sense of him from a 14 year old boy’s per­spec­tive — I’ve learned to be a man by trial and er­ror, and learned to be a fa­ther by be­ing not-my-fa­ther. Yet I’m smart enough to re­al­ize that “not-my-fa­ther” is a 14 year old’s shal­low un­der­stand­ing of fa­ther­hood. The only ways that I know I’m act­ing like my fa­ther are the only ways I knew my fa­ther acted when I was 14. I know I was a dis­ap­point­ment to him. I do not know if he was proud of me. I do not know if he had wis­dom to im­part to a grown son. I do not know the ways I am a re­flec­tion of him. I’ve asked fam­ily mem­bers to tell me how he was — or what they see of him in me, and haven’t got­ten the best an­swers.

My mom tried and failed to an­swer that ques­tion, no fault there — how does one an­swer it? But sweetly and clev­erly ap­proached it this year by send­ing me a photo al­bum of pic­tures of me and my dad — the most re­cent one over 25 years old. The al­bum is more than half empty. I can’t look at the pho­tos with­out cry­ing — and they are fa­mil­iar tears — they are the ones I get when­ever I’m ter­ri­fied that I’m not be­ing a best par­ent — when I lose my con­cep­tion of what it means to be a best par­ent — when I don’t know what to do to help my son grow into some­one brave, in­de­pen­dent, em­pa­thetic, lov­ing, and ca­pa­ble. The pic­tures show love, but what hap­pened to it? Where did it go? Being a fa­ther is high fuck­ing stakes, and I’ve al­ways hated sec­ond-rate, and not know­ing when the rules change.

I want to know these things about my fa­ther be­cause I have no fa­ther fig­ure to seek ad­vice from. I have three won­der­ful un­cles who each provide their own ex­cel­lent ex­am­ples of how to be a good fa­ther, but I don’t feel close enough, or safe enough, or like they un­der­stand me like a fa­ther would in or­der to ask for ad­vice. I’ve been per­fect­ing bravado since I gave up on my fa­ther at 14. I don’t know how an adult son ap­proaches a fa­ther. I’ve had no prac­tice be­ing the son in a healthy re­la­tion­ship, or hav­ing a healthy fa­ther. I feel bad that my son and I have to fig­ure this out to­gether. I don’t know, is it like that for every fa­ther?

Most of the peo­ple who tell me I’m a good fa­ther have had crummy fa­thers. I don’t know if that means any­thing, or if I’m just be­ing an ass.

Father’s Day is fraught be­cause my son has no one to teach him to honor his fa­ther. A fa­ther can’t do it — that’s nar­cis­sis­tic. He’s missed the prepa­ra­tions for sev­eral Father’s Days — all I want is a hand­made card and a candy bar — but I don’t blame him. Someone else should be teach­ing him to take care of that busi­ness. He’s only 8. There is zero fault for him in this — but it shows me that there are some things I can’t teach him, and that he won’t learn at all un­less there is some­one else to teach him. When my mom was up here a cou­ple of week ago I asked her to get him to work on a card while I ran er­rands. That’s the kind of stuff a sin­gle dad has to do.

He says he’s go­ing to be a sin­gle fa­ther, and adopt a daugh­ter and a son. They are go­ing to live on an ex­o­planet and I can come visit on a rocket when­ever I want. I know what all of that means, and I know the mean­ing of none of it.

The point that comes from all of this, if there is one, ap­pears to be a chronic, low-grade fever feel­ing that I am not giv­ing my son the best life that he de­serves. I doubt, I grope for tools I never saw used, and don’t know the name of. I work the skills I do have, but don’t have enough time to give him every­thing I want him to have. A healthy meal and emo­tional sup­port solve a lot, but not every­thing. I have him half of the time and that is just not enough for me to give him all he needs. I’m ef­fi­cient, but he’s a boy, not a process.

So there is it. I feel my best isn’t good enough — and I hate sec­ond-rate. What do I tell my­self?

Who cares? It doesn’t mat­ter. I don’t do this for glory, renown, or my own sat­is­fac­tion. I love my son. I do it for him.

So fresh and so clean clean.

A photo posted by Adam Harvey (@adamincle) on

How Becoming a Parent Changed Me

Friday, 1 October 2010

Becoming a par­ent does change things. I’ve heard that nearly my en­tire life, but no one has been able to suc­cess­fully ex­plain what the hell the state­ment means. It just rings a bit hol­low as an un­ex­plained tru­ism. However! I think I’ve fig­ured out a cou­ple of ways to ex­plain things; or, at least, ex­plain how be­com­ing a par­ent changed me.

Nostalgia

Watching Bram dis­cover the world al­lows me to dis­cover it again. I used to boast that I’d never lose a child­like sense of won­der, but watch­ing the lit­tle bear wig out over a train or an or­ange car shows me just how much I’d lost of that amaze­ment. One of the com­pletely un­ex­pected and un­de­served ben­e­fits of be­ing a par­ent is the abil­ity to re­live those first mo­ments of won­der vic­ar­i­ously. This vic­ar­i­ous feel­ing is sweet­ened and en­hanced by a nos­tal­gia born of re­mem­ber­ing things you’d for­got­ten you’d known. Being with Bram when he saw a freighter leave the mouth of the Cuyahoga from the Coast Guard Station at Whiskey Island pro­vided me with lay­ers and lay­ers of emo­tion stretch­ing from my own child­hood: nos­tal­gia at that level of en­thu­si­asm, the joy of re­mem­ber­ing some mo­ments of my own tod­dler ex­pe­ri­ences; and into the present: vic­ar­i­ously ex­pe­ri­enc­ing that emo­tion again, grat­i­tude at be­ing present for your own child’s mo­ment of satori, and pride that you in some way fa­cil­i­tated the process.

Extrapolating from here, I imag­ine that grand­par­ents feel much of the same; a third chance to ex­pe­ri­ence child­hood with the added bonus of a sec­ond chance to ex­pe­ri­ence par­ent­ing.

Reference Manual

I’ve gained a whole new per­spec­tive of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the par­ent­ing ex­am­ples of my par­ents. When I find my­self in a sit­u­a­tion where I’m un­sure of how to pro­ceed, I can think back to what worked and didn’t work on me, and adapt those lessons to what­ever I’m try­ing to fig­ure out with lit­tle bear. If I find my­self sec­ond-guess­ing or un­sure of my de­ci­sions, I know I’m just a phone call away from a to­tal pro.

So, par­ent­ing has changed my life by the ad­di­tion of con­text; vic­ar­i­ous nos­tal­gia by al­low­ing me to com­pare my child­hood to my son’s & a whole new ref­er­ence man­ual of be­hav­iors com­ing from what I ob­served about par­ent­ing be­fore I be­came one my­self. I un­der­stand that some folks don’t get why oth­ers would want to be par­ents, and that’s cool. For me, it’s al­ready pro­vided a wealth of new and old ex­pe­ri­ences that I never would have ex­pected, and that I ex­pect will never end.