Thursday, April 24, 2008

Parenting, and Love on a Broader Beam

My friend and former coworker Bob Barbanes' latest post is titled "Good Parenting." He mentions my blog, and how many of my posts deal with my relationship with my seven year-old son, Dylan. He writes, "His stories always tug at the heart a little, sometimes a lot. But, aside from being the same age as Hal. . . I have absolutely no desire to be a father. I know that I would not be good at it."

Bob goes on, "And don't give me that line about how you never know what kind of parent you'll be until you actually have your first child, and how being a parent 'changes you.' I don't wanna know, and I don't wanna change."

People have emailed me or left comments on my posts, pointing out what a "wonderful parent" I must be. I'm not. I think I'm a good dad. Sometimes I'm a very good dad. Sometimes I'm only a fair dad. I'm not bad, and I'm not wonderful. If how much you love your kid ranked you in the "wonderful parent" stratosphere, I'm confident that I'd be there. But loving your kid ain't enough. There's a whole lot more to it that that.

One thing I've noted in conversations with other guys who've become dads later in life. It's a certain realization: "My God, I could have missed this." Many of us guys sort of take an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude about changing the makeup of our families. My wife Rhonda says that if the choice of whether to have kids was left strictly up to men, the human race would face extinction.

So, while I liked kids, I never had a burning desire to have one of my own. Part of it was that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" thing. More than that though, the fear of responsibility weighed in. I'd made a hobby out of avoiding true adulthood, which meant that I'd largely avoiding being responsible before my marriage to anything or anybody save my job and my Harley.

And then, there was the real crusher: the fear of loss. I've known friends who've lost children. I've seen what it's done to them; I've felt that pain radiating from their souls. It always seemed that having a child was tantamount to putting your heart out there and daring life to stomp on it.

Okay, I admit it: when it came to the idea of parenthood, I was one big damned chicken.

When we learned Rhonda was pregnant, I was really, at first, more happy for her than for me. But then came the sonogram halfway through the pregnancy. I could see Dylan darting around in there--he'd later get so rambunctious that he dislocated one of Rhonda's ribs--and the doctor announced that we had a little boy. Immediately, tears came spilling out of my eyes. That was my child. That was my son. By the time he came into the world and I first held him, he already had my heart wrapped around his little finger. (Don't think the little rascal doesn't know it, too.)

So, I've been where Bob is. The reasons that I didn't want to become a father may or may not have been different, I dunno. Everything changed, though, when I became a dad.

It was strange to note: when I'd walk around with Dylan in my arms, I felt like I'd joined the world's largest secret club. Men and women would strike up a conversation with me because we now had something in common. (Rhonda suggested that I liked taking the baby Dylan out in public so much because he got "lots of attention from the chicks.")

The feeling of belonging was both strange and wonderful. But it brought forth the thought: "Does this mean that before Dylan, I didn't belong?"

I thank God that I was blessed with the chance to be a dad, in spite of being such a chicken bastard. But does that mean that if I'd never become a parent, that my life would somehow be less worthwhile, less meaningful, less valid?

I don't think so. I don't think it was true of my life before Dylan, and I don't think it's true of folks like Bob. You see, for all of the positives that have come into my life since Dylan arrived, I must admit to some negatives as well.

My life's scope has become more provincial. My grasp of current events and world affairs has weakened. And, I'm less willing to give my time to friends and acquaintances. That bothers me. I've done good things in my life. I've done bad things in my life. I've spent lots of time skating around in gray areas. But, if there is one thing I'm proud of in my life, it's that I've taken the time to try to help people feel better about themselves and their lives. I was a good listener. Now, not so much. Two people are the focus of my energies now.

With most gains come losses. I wouldn't give up my experience of being a dad for anything, and yet in a small way, I miss the me that was more out there before fatherhood. That's the way life goes. We cherish and we regret, and we work to reconcile the two.

Bob, it seems likely, will never become a parent. Some people might view his life as incomplete as such. I don't. I think we need people like Bob.

Bob is one of only two "blogging buddies" that I know in, well, "real life." (The other is Uncle E.) A couple of years ago, a fellow pilot and his wife put me up in their home during the helicopter pilot strike at PHI. On their refrigerator were photos of family: kids, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. There was also a photo of Bob Barbanes. Bob had been gone from PHI for several years at that point, but his picture was still there. To me, that spoke volumes about Bob as a person and a friend.

Bob wrote in a recent post, "I love my friends." My love might be focused mainly on two people now; I no longer live in the "out there" so much. Folks like Bob give their love in a broader beam. That doesn't make their lives any less valid. Those of us in the "secret club" of parenthood should remember: We need men and women who live as uncles and aunts and brothers and sisters at large.

We need those broader beams too.


Redlefty said...

Oustanding thoughts -- I agree 100%.

Anonymous said...

This entry speaks volumes.

I'm one of those that questioned early in adulthood whether I really wanted children or not. I'm not one of those who particulary likes being around kids. That said.... I think I was/am a pretty good mom to my own and had no problem working with their friends as a scout leader, etc. I'm actually pretty good with kids. There were lots of ups and downs over the years (still are!), but I'd say the positives have FAR outweighed the negatives. I love my kids with all my heart and can't imagine life without them!

As for blogging buddies... my sis and I are getting together with two of our PS friends for the first time this weekend! Check my blog sometime next week and I bet there will be an entry about it. : )


debby said...

You want to know what it is that makes you a great dad? You understand the importance of it. Being a great dad doesn't mean that you're perfect. Being a great dad means that you understand that your relationship with Dylan is life defining. For both of you.

Annie said...

Having my kids "later in life," I understand about the secret club feeling. Interesting, isn't it? I think we have individual moments of being a great parent, a good parent, a really-awful-so-crummy-they'll-blog-about-it-someday parent. Hopefully they average out.

Bush Babe (of Granite Glen) said...

I'm a new visitor thanks to Debby... and I love this post. I understand exactly where both you and Bob are coming from - despite being the opposite sex!

Having a child tilts your world on it's axis and nothing ever seems the same again. The view is just... different.

I loved: "We cherish and we regret, and we work to reconcile the two". This is so spot on.

Very very well written (and felt!).