Being a good parent ain’t easy; it helps Christopher Sweeney to remember scenes from his own childhood
Every so often I wonder, am I any good at this? By ‘this’ I mean parenting. And by ‘every so often’ I mean like maybe once an hour. I can’t remember if I’ve used this analogy before in the blog but I compare parenting to a kind of approach to weight lifting I was introduced to in high school. It’s called working out to failure.
By that it means you keep lifting weights in increasing amounts, repetitions etc. until your muscles literally “fail” and you can’t do any more. This is supposed to cause your muscles to grow to magnificence. Now I’m not sure if this was a correct or advisable work out practice (I did after all around this time spend an inordinate amount of money for a piece of curved metal called “The Arm Blaster” that you hung around your neck by a strap in order to isolate your biceps when doing curls – so clearly I’m not sure I was in, let’s say, a critical mode.) However, I have to say my arms did look pretty awesome and I should know because I spent a large amount of time looking at them in the mirror. Exercising is supposed to be about doing what’s good for you but it is really often about just trying to be attractive to others then, after a while, your main admirer becomes yourself – the biggest thing that gets a workout is your vanity.
How does all this relate to parenting? Well, sometimes I think this is my parenting strategy: aiming at failure. I do more and more stuff, always increasing my goals, tasks and aspirations to be a better dad than ever – joining parent council; baking muffins in the morning to take in lunches; going online to research whether the latest issue of their favourite comic book is out etc. – until… I fail. And usually spectacularly: with yelling, ridiculous claims, stamping around and sulking (and I’m talking about Me here). This often has to do with me feeling unappreciated for what I do.
Eventually a large wave of shame overtakes me and sweeps me out to drown in remorse for a while: what a jerk. Let’s be clear here, I am NOT appreciated but the point is that’s not part of the job description. For example, yesterday my 5 year old stamped upstairs and declared with some asperity to my wife: “There’s still no soap in the dispenser in the bathroom. Daddy PROMISED to do it yesterday.” He walked off shaking his head in disgust at my flakiness.
Yeah, sorry, BOSS. Guess I missed doing that in among the laundry, cooking, and child ferrying to various activities. Please take it out of my salary. See, sometimes I can laugh at it. SOMETIMES. But not always and when I blow it it’s like all the good stuff doesn’t count. As Lyle Lovett sings:
“One bad move can turn your world upside down. It’s such a shame because you’ve been so good… up to now”
It doesn’t matter how often you get it right, if you screw up once – you’re a chump. And if you lose it when they complain, it’s double down time.
So this brings me to my latest attempt to be a “Good Dad”. I’ve been bringing my kids’ baseball gloves and a ball to school pick up time as a way to interact and play with them and also to improve the throwing of my oldest who’s form is let’s say less than optimal. But he won’t play. Neither will my youngest. My middle one is keen and that’s been fun. Also what’s happened is a bunch of his friends have joined in and since the other two’s gloves are unused they have been borrowing them. So it’s not what I imagined but still pretty fun. And then yesterday my one who plays bails in the middle of the game and leaves me playing catch with a bunch of kids from his school – most of whom I actually don’t know. But they’re into it and it’s actually fun but part of me is thinking, “Come on! None of my kids will play catch with me? What’s wrong with them? With me?” And then I remembered Neilus.
When I was a kid, maybe 10 or 12 (possibly 8) I was throwing the football with my dad in the park when out of the bushes appeared Neilus. Neilus was a big slightly goofy slightly dangerous (in my mind, anyway) older kid who went to my grade school. He had arrived out of nowhere and kind of barged in and asked to play. Slightly surprised, we agreed. Neilus was REALLY into it. So much so that I think I may have wandered off for a while and let my dad and Neilus play for a while. As we walked home, I complained to my dad about Neilus taking over our game. I remember my dad being kind of sharp with me and then seeming kind of sad and asking questions about Neilus. (I had no idea what the answers were) but I get (got) the sense that Neilus’ dad wasn’t around and it was kind of a sad story. It certainly affected my dad but not me so much. I forgot this story until about twenty years later.
I was walking down the street in my old neighbourhood visiting my parents. Approaching me was a big rough character. I needed to cross the street anyway but perhaps I crossed earlier than I needed to. And then this guy crossed too heading right for me. Uh-oh. But then he called me by my last name (that’s how most refer to me). I was puzzled. And then he identified himself: he was Neilus. Life had been HARD for Neilus. He was missing teeth, his hands were rough, scarred, calloused. He’d spent a lot of time in the oil fields, up north (and I suspected other places I’m happy not to have ever had to go). But he was very friendly and was eager to talk to me about his adventures. Which surprised me because we hadn’t really ever hung out. And then he asked about my dad. He remembered that time in the park and my dad’s kindness and friendliness and just spending time throwing a ball with him. It clearly meant a lot to him – something I just took for granted. I walked away feeling pretty humbled and (as is often the case) kind of a jerk.
So maybe I don’t know one of these kids I was playing ball with will take something from it that my own kids don’t and it will make a difference to them. Maybe it’s a good thing my kids take me for granted – the other options aren’t maybe so nice. And like working out it’s supposed to be about doing something healthy and not just to be admired or for my own vanity.
Now if I could just arrange for one of these kids to “accidentally” run into my kids in about 20 years and tell them how awesome I am maybe I’ll get some respect then…
—first appeared at Pop Culture
—photo by Beverly & Pack/Flickr