Dharma teacher and mindfulness master Ty Phillips offers fathers a dose of practical philosophy.
There is a running joke amongst parents and intellectuals that goes something along the lines of, “we can’t wait for them to start talking and walking and yet when they do, we spend the rest of their lives telling them to shut up and sit down.”
Being a sane parent requires a mix between the two, but we are jumping ahead of the game. When your little bundle of poop machine starts babbling, it’s the cutest thing ever. Moments broken between belly giggles—yours and theirs—attempts at talking, endeavors at sitting up on their own when they aren’t falling over like that cartoon figure that just got knocked out, those first volitional attempts for grabbing, reaching, and that quizzical baby look of what in the world is this, are all truly amazing … until you leave your pizza and coke laying out and it’s now a cheesy carpet fizz soup with a slobber topping.
The next great discovery, is learning that babies have a grip like a vice when it comes to grabbing your hair, earrings, or other fun parts that create levels of pain that require an NC17 rating to really elaborate upon; and every, and I mean everything goes in their mouths. Cat food, carpet fuzz, used tissue full of snot, that odd glob of … stuff that the dog just hacked up—it all goes in without discrimination. Much like a dog experiences the world through it’s olfactory sense, a baby’s world is a mixture of auditory input and oral fixation. Needless to say, watch what you leave out and watch what you leave on; the TV, radio, your own conversations etc.
As a behaviorist and as a Buddhist, and truly just as a father, I cannot express enough the impact auditory input will have on your child’s mental development. In the formative years, brain growth is permanent. The fears, doubts, self talk, self awareness, and even self value your child will grow up expressing, is a direct reflection of their first four year auditory education. Every parental fight, every violent TV show, every foul language and sexually degrading song, whether or not you think they understand, emotes an energy that they pick up on. They do not understand the verbal meaning but they do understand the feeling relayed.
From the moment you start carrying and planning on giving birth to a child, your focus should be on input/output. Every generation fear, prejudice and insecurity that you carry, you are also carrying the seeds for those issues and only you can choose to plant or not plant them into your child’s life. The seeds of security, self acceptance, curiosity, healthy self-expression are all planted within those first four years. Constant yelling at home, constant violence on TV, radio, video games, or in locations that you take your children to, all soak up into that little brain like a sponge.
So, enough soap box Buddhist. I was talking about spit and pizza. For Brynn, chapstick, crayons, and play doh are a favorite inedible to cram into her mouth at the slightest chance I may not be paying attention. I cannot explain why, as each item tastes worse than the last and at best, is on a taste equivalent with wax-covered salted grass. Yet, in her mouth they go. Trying to get them out of her mouth is like running a marathon after a giggling midget that bites. As fun as this stage is, this discovery of all things that fit within their ‘eatin’ hole,’ be warned that even a dropped soiled diaper is not as revolting to them as it is to you.
This is also the stage, when all plans you may have thought you were able to make for tomorrow, next week, even later this afternoon, are officially over. You now realize that as a full-time parent, making plans requires paying someone to watch your child so that you can do something as little as go get a cup of coffee and unwind for 30 minutes. Now you see, they understand what boredom is, they understand that screaming and crying is the best method of being relieved of their stress and no matter how well fed, how recently changed and powdered, no matter how comfortable you make them, the moment you sit down or go anywhere public, they are upset and everyone and their grandmother will stare at you like you are trying to murder the child, even if you are just whispering Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Remember before you had kids there were those people that would drive you crazy by bringing their crying kid into a restaurant, the movie theatre, the grocery store ad infinitum? Guess what? Yeah … that’s you now. So while you are doing your best to remain mindful and calm, chanting away Om Mani Padme Hum inside your head, those stares of ill intent directed at you will make you sweat beads the size of small birds run down your head, back, and soak your underwear to the point that it may be you that needs the undies changed.
It all changes when you get home though—privacy. No more staring eyes with the evil glow of Maleficent boring into your soul like a flesh eating bacteria. Now it’s just you and your little pumpkin. You rinse off, don fresh underwear, and sit down under that industrial fan you now require for drying off all that social interaction nerve sweat, and you watch your child roll over and over and over and hold tightly onto your fingers with their chubby little hands as you pull them into a seated position. You let go, they wobble, oh my god they’re gonna fall over, ooh—ab muscles kick in, they get steady … and they are sitting on their own for the very first time without falling over.
You realize that as you clap your tattooed hands and keep your deep voice as high pitched and Mickey Mouse like as you can, that your beard is wet. What is this nonsense? Am I crying? Oh my god! I am crying. As she looks up at you lecturing yourself like a heavily tattooed death-metal Mickey Mouse, she realizes that daddy is funny and then something else happens. She gives you that giant, gummy, open-mouthed smile and bursts out into that first, belly bouncing baby giggle and your world is complete.