My 2-year-old son does something unspeakable in his diaper.
“Why not try to do that in the potty next time, buddy?” I wearily suggest.
As I start to change him, my dad looks over my shoulder and said, “I remember when you’d do that.”
Becoming a father myself has certainly given me a different perspective, and appreciation, about what it takes to be a parent. Like so many expecting parents I read book after book filled with advice. Also like so many first time parents, holding my newborn made me realize that I didn’t know a dang thing.
It is an inescapable fact of life — sooner or later a new parent realizes that in ways big and small, they are becoming their parents. This realization may start as a small thing: A joke, a lullaby, a stern phrase, a shouted encouragement. But it always starts.
There is no great mystery in this. For better or worse, our parents are our first and best examples of what it means to raise a child. They provide the default template for how we act. Hopefully, like my folks, they were pretty good at it. At the other end of the spectrum lies the dark reality that things like emotional and physical abuse are often passed down from generation to generation.
I’ve been struck by the implications of this. Not only am I raising my son, but indirectly affecting how my grandchildren will be raised as well. That’s a lot of pressure to get this right.
My son is screaming for mac and cheese for lunch. I make the mac and cheese, as I try to calmly tell the little tyrant that he just needs to wait a little bit for his food, that screaming will not help.
Finally, the bowl of noodles is ready! I set the bowl in front of my son, who immediately picks it up and hurls it to the floor, where the noodles land with a plop on my foot.
“I remember you doing that too,” my dad says.
Of course, in moments like these, when a case of macaroni toe pushes parenting skills and human patience to the extreme, I remember things too. Things like the time the 4-year-old me took a full glass of orange juice from the restaurant table, and poured it on the head of the man in the booth behind me (Sorry!). Things like how my dad, even after the OJ incident, rarely resorted to raising his voice to yell at me to discipline.
Things like how my dad somehow struck a successful balance between setting boundaries for two unruly boys, yet still fostering an enduring sense of exploration and adventure in us. Things like how he was, and continues to be, my biggest fan.
It is a humbling thing to realize that even after all these years, there is still a lot to learn from the old man.