Thursday, May 24, 2007

Parenthood: The challenges, joys and fears

“You will know no fear until you’re a parent,” an experienced parent once told me. And it’s true. Until you’re faced with the responsibility of turning a helpless baby into a self-sufficient, well-adjusted, educated, adult, you’ve never known shear terror.

It’ll bring about sleepless nights, panic attacks, constant worry, stupidity, self-doubt, fits of anger, and the occasional need to imbibe in one-too-many.

If you look at our culture today, the demands on parents are exponential: They’re expected to keep their kids in top health by making sure they eat only organic food; they're expected to turn their baby into a genius through videos from Baby Einstein; they’re expected to discipline their children only through the use of “time-outs;” and, finally but not lastly, parents need to see to make sure their young understand algebra, biology and can read – all before they reach the 1st grade.

Thank God for places like McDonald’s, Chuck E Cheese, and The Red Robin – restaurants where you can feed your child some fat-packed, cholesterol-laden meal while witnessing other parents violating all of our culture’s “rules” about child rearing. The latter two even serve beer!

As I was growing up, my dad use to say to me, “You know, you didn’t come with a training manual.”

And that’s the problem. Go to any bookstore these days and, as far as I can tell, there are too many training manuals. What did parents do in, say, the 18th century? I’m not sure but somehow they managed to turn out a generation of children who were likely no worse – and no better – than the ones we’re creating today.

I can’t stand the parent police. We should find a boat big enough for them as well as the food police, the attorneys and the accountants – and sink it!!!

My wife and I were one of these couples who were married for a long time before we ever became parents, 14 years. When the first bundle of joy arrived, we’d done a number of things that many people might envy: We’d traveled overseas, met the “beautiful people,” dined in great restaurants and generally had a lot of spontaneous fun.

All of that came to a crashing end with the arrival of our first son. But that’s okay. I understand he, like his younger brother, needs to be brought up by us. We’re far from perfect parents, but we are responsible ones, so we stick close to home, especially at dinner time.

I’m thankful for those nights when we eat at a restaurant – without the children in tow. Even if it is a restaurant that’s nosier than I prefer, the fact that I’m eating without attempting to keep a kid in line, forced to listen to an ear drum-ringing tantrum, clean up a mess, deal with a potty issue, or just make sure they’re eating the damn food that’s been served, is a relief.

Don’t get me wrong. I dearly love our children. They’re not perfect nor will they ever be. Part of that’s due to the fact that they have a highly imperfect father who thinks most of the parenting manuals published today are gobbledygook.

I rely on my own wits, wisdom, and childhood experiences to bring up our children. The way I see it, my parents didn’t produce a serial killer or a rapist. I’m far from perfect, but I’m not a criminal.

After dinner at our house, we take our boys upstairs for a bath. Sometimes I put them in the shower. After the curtain’s closed, and the started is water, I listen to their conversation.

At nearly 5 and 3 1/2, these two little guys have a lot to say to one another. They exchange stories about their day, their friends and their interests, which includes Spiderman, Star Wars, pirates, fire trucks, the police and candy.

After they’re in their pajamas and their teeth are brushed, we read them one or two books. Then we tuck them into bed, kiss them, hug them and tell them how much they’re loved.

A few hours later, after they’ve long fallen asleep, I sneak into their bedroom to admire them and adjust their covers. The same thing always happens while I’m there. I don’t know if it’s physical or it’s mental, but there’s always this irrational fear that grips me.

I start worrying about all the things that could go wrong. Terror attacks, car accidents, school issues, and more, suddenly sweep through my mind, gripping me with more fear, than I’d ever experienced before someone started calling me daddy.

It’s like what that parent once told me: You know no fear until you’re a parent. That fear makes me a better parent. I hope it never goes away.

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