Dealing With Dad (After You Become Him)

So, you have a brand new bundle of joy, your first, and the whole world is happy for you, consumed with the cuteness of the new kid, and generally life just seems absolutely, perfectly wonderful. Nothing in the world could have prepared you for this feeling, this absolute enthrallment with what is essentially a helpless midget. You’re happier and more proud than you have ever been in your entire life, more so than you will ever be again. It passes.

Once you leave the hospital, you begin to remember that there is a world we live in, and that world couldn’t care less that you had a baby. That world still wants the rent check, the electricity check, and the phone check. That world still wants you at work at 9am sharp on Monday morning, and to hell with your pride, your joy, and your excuses. You get home, still enthusiastic and enthralled, and then the midget screams.

‘I didn’t know they screamed like THAT!’, you yell over the cacophany.

And she just smiles. You see, she knew all about it. She knew what it was going to be like, how hard it was going to be, and what baby crap smells like. She knew all of it, because her family has 200 babies a year, but she didn’t tell you. Oh, she tried to tell you, of course. She thought it would be enough to look at you, say your name, and then say ‘It isn’t going to be easy, you know.’ right in the middle of the Sox game. You nodded and smiled and said ‘uh-huh’, and went back to the game (You don’t even remember it, do you? I know I don’t)

Eight-point-seven-six-two months later, along comes the midget. And the screaming. And the poop… and the [fill in everything in the world you didn’t expect here]. So, when the screaming starts, you pick up the phone. You don’t even really think about it, you need some advice on how to deal with this little terrorist.

Halfway through dialing the number, you put the phone down. You can’t call Dad, he’ll think you’re a horrible father. He’ll think you didn’t learn anything from him, that he failed in his job because you don’t have the first clue on how to handle this new situation, and you should have picked it all up from him in the last twenty-five years or so. Or worse, you fear that one call could spell the end of your independence, and that he’ll forever think you need him to tell you how to handle raising your children.

This is where it gets sticky. Your pop may indeed know everything in the world about raising a child, or he may not. Either way, it’s hard to separate the boundaries, hard for him to understand that you are him now, a new father with all of the responsibilities he had twenty-five years ago. Having a child to love and protect makes your heart surge with love, pride, and power. Yep, power. You now have the power and responsibility to raise, love, and protect your child. It makes you feel about fifty feet tall, makes you stick out your chest and makes your head far too big to be in the same room with your friends and family. You don’t want to surrender that power to anyone, or even be made to feel like you have surrendered that power. Reality, that thankless taskmaster, has other plans for you.

Eventually, we all need advice. For me, I had a hard time asking my father for advice, even though I admire and respect him to no end. I got around it by asking for his opinion, not his advice. See, when you seek out someone’s advice, you feel a certain obligation to weigh it very heavily, because you admired and respected the person enough to ask them to help mediate your problem. An opinion, however, can be discarded at will, if circumstances dictate. You can get fifty opinions, weigh them all, them throw them out the window. Advice is harder. It’s semantic nonsense, but it works.

My advice: Never ask for advice. Ask for opinions, then make your own decisions. ‘Hey, what do you think of homeschooling in general?’ is a world apart from ‘Do you think I should homeschool?’ The former is better than the latter, if you ask me.

The other major issue I have run into with my ‘Old Man’ is the advent of so many new parenting styles, information, and expertise that is but a few clicks away in this modern world. Our parents raised us with the tools they had available to them, and they want to feel like they did an absolutely incredible job. What they don’t want is to hear about how all the new research completely contradicts everything they did while we were growing up. They don’t want to hear about all of the new things you are going to try to put into practice as a dad in the twenty-first century that they didn’t have in the late seventies.

Invariably, when the conversation turns in this direction, our parents become defensive of their parenting style, techniques, and methodology. They feel like they are under attack from our generation, like we are picking apart everything they did. I made the mistake of telling my father I wasn’t going to use physical punishment with my son (it was used very sparsely when I was growing up, usually a last resort). The response: ‘Well, you will when he gets older.’

‘I didn’t mean anything by it, I was just…..’

‘Yeah, we’ll see.’

The implication is that you will be eating your words, and the whole thing degrades into a very male contest of wills, with you being stubborn about your ‘new-fangled’ technique, and your father being stubborn about his ‘tried and true’ methods.

‘Well, we [fill in activity you are not planning on] with you, and you turned out all right.’

‘Sure, sure, you’ve had a kid for [period of time], you know everything. Yup.’

My advice: Try very hard not to step on your father’s toes when it comes to parenting methods. He raised you, and he only understands on an intellectual level that you are beyond his scope of control now. He still sees you the way you see your baby, helpless and needy, someone to be cared for and protected at all costs.

Imagine for a moment your son or daughter with a son or daughter of their own. Is it even imaginable’ Can you even conceive the notion of your son/daughter raising a child’ This helpless, drooling, babbling midget in charge of another life’

Is that scary, or what? Now you know how your dad feels, and how he always will.

Anthony Levensalor 5/14/04, Wilton, NH