“Are you out with the grandson for the day?” is a question seasoned adults hear when we take our children out for the day. Children are more direct, “Are you his grandpa or his dad?”
The primary reason grandpa questions don’t bother me is that I know how close I came to missing out on ever having a child. The theoretical addition by subtraction never makes much sense, but I cannot imagine where I’d be, or who I’d be now, if I never met my son. When I play ball with him, bike or swim with him, or just sit and chat about how we view life, I think about how close I was to missing it all.
One of the other reasons I’m unmoved by the grandpa questions is that I stood on the precipice of a disaster. I was nineteen-years-old, holding my girlfriend’s hand, while a nurse read the results of a sonogram, “You’re not pregnant,” she said. In the moments preceding those three glorious words, my life as a nineteen-year-old father flashed before my eyes, and an exaggerated “whoosh” of relief escaped me when she said them.
“There is no getting ready for a child,” a co-worker named Don informed me in the days before the sonogram, when I confided to him that I was not ready to be a parent. “When you have a child, you get ready.”
“That’s great advice … if you’re a mature, well-adjusted person,” I responded, “but some of us are anything but.”
“I was just as foolish and immature as you are when I became a father for the first time,” he said. “If I can learn anyone can.”
“Okay, but were you angry?” I asked Don. “Were you a little angry about … everything, because some of us are. Some of us think we were cheated in life, and some of us think that everyone has it so much better and easier, and to be honest we’re pretty ticked off about it. When we have kids, we’ll pass that on.” Don argued that I was probably underestimating myself and being over-analytical. He maintained that he knew me pretty well, and he thought I was a pretty good kid who would ramp up when that special gift of a child graced my life.
“Let’s put this way,” I said. “If I can somehow manage to mess up my life without harming or affecting anyone else, no one will care, but if I have a child how can I avoid effecting them with every malady I have swimming around in my head?”
“When you hold that boy, or that girl, in your arms, it changes you.”
“I’ve heard that,” I said, “but what happens when the proverbial honeymoon period ends? We go back to who we are.”
Thankfully, we never found out if Don was right, because my girlfriend was not pregnant, and I escaped the relationship with her unscathed. No matter how generous Don was with his assessments, I knew I was unfit for fatherhood, but the question I had was I the exception to the rule. I wouldn’t be able to answer that question until I began working at a hotel where I met hundreds to thousands of parents over the course of a decade. Most of the young parents I met were broke, stressed out, and at their wits end. They appeared as frustrated with the direction of their lives as I was, and they were dealing with the various pressures of life just as poorly. They were screaming as loud as their children were. They were screaming to get their screaming children to behave, but they were still screaming. It was chaotic to say the least, and I suspected they were on their best behavior in front of me. As we talked, I found myself identifying with their plight, but I didn’t have the added pressure of raising a child. In the brief windows I had into their lives, they appeared to parent as poorly as I feared I might.
The older parents I met appeared to have answered so many “What am I going to do with my life?” questions that they appeared more settled. They appeared happier, more satisfied, and they appeared to appreciate their children more. They appeared more financially secure, and they didn’t appear to take their frustrations out on their child. Their method of parenting was more reasoned, and more psychological. They corrected their children in a calm, more psychological manner, and their children responded well to that. These encounters provided anecdotal examples to bolster my argument, but I met so many of them that I no longer felt like an exception to the rule.
Not too long ago, people had kids to create cheap labor to help them out on the farm. Most people don’t farm anymore, so why do we have kids? Federal government statistics title national childbirth rates as the replacement rates. If they’re here to replace us, what are they replacing? If they’re here to pass on our legacy, what legacy are we passing on?
I’ve also seen people, young and old, and in the hotel I worked in and out, who never should’ve had kids. I’ve seen parents who had personal, emotional, and spiritual issues, and I saw their kids bring out worst of them. I’ve seen unavailable narcissists who produced unavailable narcissists. I’ve also been a witness to some awful people who were great to their kids. They took great pride in their children, and they taught them that family is everything. That’s laudable of course, but in many ways, they taught their kids to be awful to everyone else, under the dog-eat-dog philosophical umbrella. I’ve seen some of these kids relay awful stories about what they did to others, and I saw those parents celebrate the misdeeds. Celebrations of doing awful things to people are hilarious in thirty-minute Married with Children sitcoms, but when we reward children for being awful, there are going to be ramifications. I’ve even witnessed grandparents chastise their children for parenting their grandchildren in such a manner, and the first thing that comes to my mind is, “Where you do you think they got it?”
The best way to raise children is to learn from the mistakes other parents make, including our own. The best way to learn how to parent is to learn what not to do, and that takes time. It takes time to see the harmful effects of parenting. Why did I turn out the way I did, and how can I correct it? Why does my friend’s kid do the things he does, and is there an antidote to that? We also need to shore up our own character in ways that are all but impossible when we’re young, because we don’t know ourselves yet. Then, we need to be objective enough to recognize that we’re going to make mistakes, and that the best way to recover from them is to spend more time with our kid. Long story short, I probably learned more about what not to do from watching my friends, my friends’ parents, and others I encountered than I could ever learn from books or anything else. I also learned who not to marry and share the parenting responsibilities.
That’s the best piece of advice I would offer anyone who wants a child. Make sure you pick the best, other parent you can find. Make sure you have a steady, unselfish, and patient spouse who is willing to hold your hand through the most difficult times. Make sure you have someone you have someone to consult on the most pressing issues, and try to find someone who can talk you off the proverbial cliff when the difficult times worsen.
I’ve had friends who chose to go it alone. Before I became a parent, I found that surprising. “Why would you choose to do it alone?” I asked them. As a parent who has survived eight years of raising one child, I now find that decision incomprehensible. Why would anyone choose to do all of this alone? I know most people have it more together than I do, or ever will, but the idea of choosing to do it alone is just beyond my comprehension.
Other than having a wife help me through the stresses, strains, and some of the madness involved in raising an infant, the best solution for me was to have enough age, experience, and maturity to deal with it all, and that took me longer than most to achieve. I didn’t recognize the totality of it at the time, but I resented my girlfriend’s two-year-old girl for taking so much of my time and attention. I also resented her for taking away my free time, and my money. We can call this greedy, but I was nineteen-years-old, and I worked hard. It was money my employer gave me for working hard, and when I got off work I wanted to sit back and chill. Anyone who knows anything about raising a two-year-old knows, there’s no such thing as stress-free free time. As a consequence, I yelled a lot when I was younger, and I screamed at the dumbest things back then. I’m calmer now, and I’m far more rational, psychological, and objective than I was in my teens. I have no resentment for the child I now have. In fact, I spend every minute I can with him.
I don’t blame my teenage girlfriend for my inability to parent her child effectively, and I don’t give my wife 100% of the credit for my current ability. In the space between the two, I became a different, better man. I lived the life of freedom I always wanted, and I got a lot out of my system. I also enjoy my life now, and I’m no longer as frustrated about how my life turned out. I wouldn’t say I have everything figured out, but my soul is far more settled now. Everyone reaches this point in varying ways, and I have achieved it. I am able to handle stressful situations to a point where I happier now than I’ve ever been.
Some seasoned parents might regret the fact that they didn’t start a family sooner. They might regret that they don’t have the energy to keep up with their kids, and they might fear that the generation gap between them might result in them not being able to relate to their kids down the line. These are noteworthy concerns that are relative to the person, but when I input all this data, in my personal computer, the little yellow slip comes out saying that no matter what the plusses and minuses of waiting as long as I did might be, I ended up making the best choice for me.
This, of course, doesn’t mean it’s the right answer for you, the reader, and I don’t think any article can answer the question for another, but I did find an interesting quote that swerves into the truth in a roundabout way. It comes from an episode of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. In one particular episode of that series, Larry David is arguing with a fifteen-year-old. The fifteen-year-old claims (due to the particulars of the plot of that episode) that Larry owes it to him to fulfill his wish of seeing a woman naked. “I just don’t want to die without seeing a woman naked,” the fifteen-year-old says.
“I almost did,” Larry David confesses.
‘That’s it,’ I thought when Larry said that, ‘right there.’ One of the primary reasons most seasoned parents appreciate their children more than most young parents. We almost missed it.