(Written 2 February 2007)
The path to this place in my life is riddled with as many failures, successes, embarrassments, triumphs, fears, and doubts as anyone's. I'm really not that different than most white American men in the middle class Midwest. I'm okay with that.
I make the generic statement that every person is unique. I believe it to be true for both Divine and biological reasons, nature and nurture combined. Okay: easy enough to understand. But what does it mean to be unique? To truly understand your gifts and limitations? To know yourself well enough to make the most of every day, and therefore life? These are questions I struggle with, and one reason I chose to write here. I only know at this point that I can think and speak for myself, which is something of a rarity, that I am intelligent and talented, and that I want and know I can achieve more out of life.
Throughout my 33 years, I have fit into several pre-drilled pigeon holes, but none completely. What I really need at this point is some real definition and priority. My first attempt at this will be to sort out which of these holes I fit into and which are most important.
Today I am especially focused on fatherhood. When most people meet me for the first time, it is usually in a family setting, so this is entirely appropriate. I became a father for the first time in 1998, at the age of 25. I had no idea what it was that made me think I could do it. Of course in theory, it all seems fairly straightforward, if not complicated and messy on occasion. But parenting, I found, takes more than a plan.
We describe Anthony as the perfect first child. He was easy to soothe, slept through the night at 6 weeks, attentive, happy, healthy...all the things you read about in the first paragraph of each chapter in the "What to Expect..." books. He was (and remains) a very tender child with an empathic connection to the feelings of those around him. This alone disturbed me.
My past is troubled, and my marriage imperfect. There were many times during Anthony's early years that I experienced things I had no idea how to handle, and I reacted accordingly. I tried to shield my new son from as much of this as I could, but I knew almost immediately I could not hide my feelings or mood from him. As any new parent knows, there are few choices about the various duties of child rearing. Feeding, changing, bathing, dressing, napping, playing, and bedding down of the kid takes place whether you are ready or stable or not. Failure to do these things is unacceptable, at least when trying to establish a routine with which your infant will hopefully begin a long successful life. But when you can't think because your mind is racing, it's 7 o'clock and dinner still hasn't even been talked about, and you are trying to sort through the bills because not all of them can be paid this month, the last thing you need is a stinky diaper. And it takes a toll on you. Anthony could see this a mile away.
I beat myself up about it, and wondered: How would this child turn out if he had healthier parents? If he'd never seen his father cry, or heard him shout at his mother? As real life churned around us both, I slowly saw Anthony's perfect infant view dull. His reactions to things became more subtle and less enthusiastic, and I wept the loss this innocence. What I did not see at the time was the beginning of a new personality, and the natural attrition of things that change in every baby as he grows into toddlerhood.
At some point, I realized that I, we, his parents, would never be perfect, and though our problems would take a toll on his and our lives, we had the responsibility to carry on and do our best. Sometimes that meant chalking up a bad day to something that, maybe, would be different tomorrow. Sometimes it meant looking in the mirror and doing something about those problems. Sometimes it meant apologizing to the little boy who, despite his age and inability to understand, deserved better than what he'd been handed.