The Perils of Being a Dad

I wish I had even the slightest idea of what was normal when it comes to milestones in my son’s life. As the only child of a single mother, I really don’t have anything to guide me on this path of fatherhood. I have no clue if what my son is doing is something that I should worry about, or if it’s just a phase that all, most, or even some kids simply go through. For instance, is it acceptable, developmentally speaking, for my son to cry so much? I mean, any time he doesn’t get his way, he breaks down in tears and remains inconsolable for the following five or ten minutes. It’s not all the time, but it happens frequently enough that I’m concerned his only memories of childhood will be tear-stained ragings against the injustice of his dad. I don’t remember weeping all the time (at least until I began falling in and out of love), but I guess it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that it had happened. There is a chance, I suppose, that he’ll focus only on the happy times, or it will eventually all blend together like a moderately moistened yawn. I just don’t know, I really haven’t got a baseline for it…

After having spoken with my mother, it looks like I will probably not be remembered as the Bringer of Tears, but considering what it took to get us back on speaking terms after I moved out, I guess I’ll take that with a grain of salt. I can guide my son down the paths to wisdom, but for lessons in emotional maturity, he’ll have to take an online course. My coping mechanisms have usually involved better living through chemistry, and I’m fairly certain that’s not a lesson that I’d like to pass along. I wasn’t all too thrilled at the prospect of him taking ADHD uppers, as I’ve seen all of the ways in which giving speed to kids can go so terribly wrong, but the undeniable fact is that he is doing better academically on his medication, and is paying attention in class, and even focusing on the tasks at hand. By the time he gets home, of course, the medicine has cleared his system, so it’s hard to see firsthand if it is really working or not. But the progress reports I’ve gotten from his teacher (who is now disturbingly eager to come and talk to me), and my conversations with David have led me to believe that his pills might actually be helping, and he’s not just lost somewhere in zombie mode.

When we were up in Washington, we left his medication at home, and he just flew around my grandparents’ house like a Colombian Turkey, warbling up and down the stairs, and frequently running into furniture and people. Every morning (and every other afternoon), he begged to be taken for a walk down to the beach so he could stock up on cool looking rocks and the very best in only slightly broken shells. Fighting down this modern instinct to overprotect the hell out of him, I told him on several occasions to just pop on his boots and trudge on down. Even for someone with his stubby little legs, he’d only be walking about five minutes, and since the mudslide which took out most of Rolling Bay Walk, there’s really no traffic on the road to speak of. But my wife would have none of that, and accompanied him down there with a look that would have shamed me into action, had I been awake. I told her she should get the most out of her time away from work, and catch up on the two years of sleep that she had missed, but I was told, in no uncertain terms, that she would do what she was going to do, and I could do the same.

I can’t blame either of them for being so enamored of the beauty of the neighborhood where I spent my youth. When I was David’s age, I could walk from the house where my mother and I lived (next door to my great-grandmother) down to the beach, stroll along the rocky shores of Rolling Bay, and up the hill on the other side, to say hello to my grandparents. I knew that telephones were a thing, but it was a lot more fun my way. Every summer I would swim in the frozen waters, thinking that the early warning signs of hypothermia were just a passing current of whale pee (I’m not the only one, either!). For my wife, I think that the bucolic seascape served as a substitute for the home she hasn’t seen in years, whereas for David William, it was a chance to escape all of the dangers (or so his terrified parents kept telling him) of a more urban area (To be clear, I am not using “urban” as code. I am referring to traffic, and the violence which occurs when you cram too many people together). For me, these trips back home are a chance to see my aging grandparents one last time, but for the family of which I am the head, it’s an opportunity to call somewhere new their home.

The first time I flew up with my wife and son, I was treated to the gift of snow in time to celebrate my birthday, and it was the first time either of them had seen such a thing in real life (my son was only five months old, so that’s kind of a given, but it made my wife’s whole day). And it’s that one gift, above all others, that I have to give to my son: The joys of experiencing the beauty of those simple things which we often overlook and take for granted. We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, so my mother gave me a childhood of experiences instead, and as I look across my son’s cluttered room, floor littered with electronics, as he’s tuned wholly into LEGO Batman 3, I realize that that I might have had it better. I might not have had the childhood I deserved (in my mind, at least), but I definitely had the childhood that I needed. So maybe it’s for the best that I’m living a life of modern monastic poverty. When I had money, I could spend it on all the toys I would have killed for growing up, but because I was so rarely home, they were just a poor substitute for an absent father. I’m woefully out of practice, but I’m relearning how to be a (slightly) more hands-on Dad. Little by little, I’m trying to sneak a life lesson in when he isn’t looking, but what’s really helping is the time I spend just interacting with him as if he were a person. Who knew?

My reason for wanting to have a better life. Also pictured: My family.
My reason for wanting to have a better life. Also pictured: My family.


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