What have almost eight years of fatherhood changed about the way I think about my kids and how I’m going to screw them up?
Photo by: AdamSelwood
Friend of the Internet, podcaster, and fellow Richmonder, Casey Liss recently welcomed his first child (a son) into the world. Bookending this event, Mr. Liss recorded two podcasts, one immediately before his son was born and one immediately after. He spoke honestly about his fears, worries, and anxieties about becoming a dad. It got me thinking: What did I worry about then and what do I worry about now? What have almost eight years of fatherhood changed about the way I think about my kids and how I’m going to screw them up?
When I first became a dad, I was overwhelmed, but overwhelmed with a small number of things. There was a new person that I was responsible for, but who only needed food, to be held, or a diaper change. I recognized how little I knew about parenting, but I was reassured by the idea that nobody really does.
Those first worries were all so basic. Make sure the kid is breathing. Figure out how to make the kid sleep. Is she hungry? Did she poop? Don’t drop her.
And when the kid starts moving around you start worrying about what things could fall or what things might be swallowed.
But as our daughters aged, my worries shifted more from “How do I physically protect them?” to “How do I teach them the right things?” When is it OK to let things slide versus standing your ground? How do I make sure they get the most from their education? How do I teach them grit, the thing I personally struggle with the most?
With all things, it’s a balance. What do they need in this moment? Who’s the best parent I can be right now? Why am I yelling so much this afternoon? Did I forget to eat lunch?
For better or worse, my kids learn behaviors from my wife, Kat, and me. Things you tell them stick.1 And you don’t get to pick which things you do are the most sticky. Something I have no recollection of might stay with my kid for life, while the Greatest Life Lesson I Can Fathom™ is instantly forgotten. Kids are little imitation machines, and they’re going to parody you better than you can imagine. I worry that they’re going to imitate the worst of me.
How do I better myself to be a better example for my girls? What projects can I stick to, even when it’s hard, to show my girls that nobody’s perfect? It’s so easy to come home after a day at work and veg out in front of my iPad. Is that time I’m wasting? I want to give my family the best possible version of myself, but sometimes myself is sleepy.
My girls don’t need a radically different version of me, but it wouldn’t hurt to give them a more mindful Sam. A dad who reads on his iPad at night because he’s interested in something, not because his muscle memory opens Twitter without thinking. A dad who tries things out, like improv comedy classes, but acknowledges that it’s both fun and hard work. A dad who figures out ways to say yes to things, even when he’s grumpy.
Soon (if it hasn’t happened already), Kat and I won’t be the primary influencers of our daughters’ worlds. They’ll be beholden to the whims of pre-teen groupthink, and that’s scary. I worry about finding the right balance of letting my daughters make their own mistakes and protecting them from them. You can’t teach someone how to learn for themselves without actually letting them learn for themselves.
One thing that hasn’t changed since I first became a father is the overwhelming, all-encompassing love I have for my daughters. A part of me that I didn’t know was empty was instantaneously filled. I am so content to have made this little family with Kat, and, despite my worries, I’m genuinely excited to be here for whatever may come next.
- The first time I heard my kid disciplining her toys using the same words that I use was quite a shock. ↩