Monday, February 25, 2008

Lessons of parenthood (part 1)

This is part 1 of a likely endless series about my personal experiences of being a father. It is also an excuse to post pictures of my son and brag about how cute he is. My son, James Dillon, was born on June 15th, 2007. I took him home on Father's Day and the next day, my first full day with him at home, was my 23rd birthday, so it was an all-around pretty special (and exasperating) weekend for me. I won't go into how "wonderful it is to be a parent," but it has provided me a unique perspective on life that I could not have had otherwise. The following are the effects of being a parent.

In the past month, James Dillon has learned how to get up on all fours, drink out of a cup, eat chunks of food, and lure cats into his grasp, just to name a few of his newfound talents. The point is that, as a baby, he is rapidly developing new skills, discovering new things and becoming more aware of the world around him.

As his father, I find this challenging. Baby or not, I am a competitive son of a bitch, and I want to be growing and learning at a faster rate than he is. Of course this is impossible, but it does keep me motivated to continue growing.

Imagine if babies just decided, "You know what? I'm happy where I am, with my ability to crawl, drink milk and liquidy solids, and babble incoherently. This is good enough for me." Well obviously the human race would not last long if this attitude were widespread among babies. That's why we are so obsessed with learning and growing at a young age.

The problem is that a lot of people seem to reach a plateau that they are satisfied with, somewhere from 14-24. This is not only accepted, but anticipated. In high school, I remember thinking that I had until the end of college to build myself up to a certain point of knowledge, and then coast through life from there. This idea is perpetuated in our culture, which commonly views your 20s as the peak of your life. A lot of this comes from our obsession with physicality. The most popular role models, athletes and actors (especially female actors), usually peak in their twenties and once they hit 30, "it's all downhill from there." We mistakenly equate our bodies' peak with our personal peak.

I almost literally get sick to my stomach every time I hear someone say that college is where you "discover yourself." This idea is the result of two problems: parents dictating who their children are before they become independent, and our own willingness to stop growing once our formal schooling is complete.

We often view life as a collection of segments: childhood, high school, college, working life, retirement. We partially define ourselves by which point we're at, and assume that we won't change all that much until we enter the next stage. Of course, the working life stage is becoming increasingly long and lasts at least 40 years. To expect, and accept, that we won't dramatically change in that time deprives us of most of our lives. If I reach my late 50s and find myself essentially the same person as I am now, I will probably become suicidal. Not to worry though, because my son is constantly challenging me to grow.

I don't know the intracacies of babies' minds, but my eight-month-old son's mind seems to be working non-stop, taking in new information all the time and learning from it. When I see that, it's hard for me to justify wasting my time playing solitaire or watching some Seinfeld re-run for the umpteenth time.

A year from now--when James Dillon will be walking, talking and recognizing himself in a mirror--I want to be able to look back at my 2/25/08 self and confidently say, "I am a better person than he was."


Anonymous said...

Nice perspective on both childhood and parenthood.

Terry S said...

I came here via your other (or former) blog, "A Godless Nation."

I can relate to your experiences as a father, though mine are more far removed. I am in my sixties and my two sons are in their late 20s. By the way, it's still good. Different, but good.

I also echo your sentiments for moving away from issues regarding religion/atheism. My blog is into its third year, and I have found it more and more difficult to keep up the discussion. It often feels like I'm rewinding a tape and playing back the same tunes. The argument never seems to advance very far.

I often respond to current issues in the light of being an atheist, but even that only goes so far.

I attempted to start another blog just as you have, dealing with things other than religion, but couldn't keep it going. Hell, my life often bores me, let alone trying to make it interesting to someone else.

Good luck with this effort, and certainly may you experience good fortune in parenting.

Terry S.