The comparisons start the moment the first baby picture is posted.
“He has your eyes.” “Those are her grandfather’s cheeks.” “Got his old man’s chin.”
I was never concerned with ‘who got what’. It seems silly to brand our children over dimples, eyelids and muscle tones. Our children were soup cans and we’re looking up the ingredients on the label. As far as I knew, we were creating children, not cloning them.
Good looks, charm and a winning smile aren’t the only things we pass on to our kids. I’m learning this the hard way. The very hard way.
My kids are stubborn. They talk back. Refuse to listen. Can’t calm down easily. Want instant gratification.
Like son, like father.
You can guess what happens when stubborn children melt down in front of their stubborn short-tempered father. It’s not pretty.
I consider myself pretty good with words, but I cannot, for the life of me, accurately describe how awful a human being I feel about this. I’m a bad father. An awful father.
You never want to be the pathetic dad who can’t control his kids as they scream at the top of their lungs in Nordstrom. You cringe at the angry “Where do you think this is, Sears?” looks from the employees. Mostly, these tantrums happen at home. When they happen in public, they rarely end well. Last week, I didn’t appreciate Casey calling me “idiot” in a crowded store. That was not a good day. For him or me.
The easiest excuse I have is stress. I’m stressed about everything. Money. Commute. Work. Those are the surface stresses. My macro stress comes from a deep and emotional place. I’m stressed about NOT being there for my family enough, physically, financially and emotionally. Deep down, I know that a million dollar salary and working from home wouldn’t make me a better dad.
So, it comes down to me. I need to shift my attitude. Adjust how I try to deal with them. Calmly react to the times when they fly off the handle. I try being their friend. But, I come off as ‘dad’, with his rules and restrictions. Casey has this way of referring to entities he can’t quite name as “The Man”. I’m sure I’ll be “The Man” during his teenage years. Oh, won’t that be fun?
It’s not as easy as “if they’d just listen”. I’m not exactly Mr. Conformity. We become individuals and express our true selves by throwing caution to the wind. Marching to our own beat. In a way, children are mini-entrepreneurs. By trying to institute rules, am I knocking down their entrepreneur spirit? Will they take the easy route for the material reward rather than struggle to achieve what fulfills them? Does the short-term goal of pleading with them to simply brush their teeth hurt them in the long term?
Children have the best jobs. They spend their days playing pretend. Exploring. Creating. Imagining. Creating works of art that they bring home to share. I work in a “creative” industry. What are my days filled with? Frustration. Indecision. Pressure. I certainly don’t rush home to show my kids the latest print ad I wrote. They derive nothing from it.
I need to shift my attitude. I need to re-think my “role” as a father, and as a person. My kids aren’t obstacles, they’re the answer. I need to be more like THEM.
Learning from my kids is a reoccurring theme in my life. You’d think that I’d learn how to act upon it by now. But in worrying about the gas prices, car repairs and Red Sox, you lose sight of the bigger things in life. You can’t see three or four years down the road, because you can’t think a day ahead. It’s that whole cracks in the dam thing. Right now, I’m plugging holes. I need to build a new dam.
If my kids pick up my bad habits, do they also pick up my positive ones? The signs point to yes. Casey loves drawing and imaginary role-playing. Kieran loves tossing a baseball. They both get sucked into Pixar movies very easily. Their imaginations run wild. These are very good signs.
We’re a mere few days away from a weeklong trip to Walt Disney World. I’m certain that this won’t be a postcard-perfect vacation. A trip to Target can be an overwhelming experience for a toddler, You can imagine what pirates and giant mice will do to a small tot. I’m sure a meltdown or two will occur. But it’s a chance for them to see the world in a completely new way. Maybe it’ll be the kick in the pants I need in order to be the person I was put on this planet to be.
This trip is a chance to hit the “reset” button. A week away from deadlines commutes, late night writing sessions and distracting twitter reading. I’m going to a place love with the people who mean the most to me (yes, the Red Sox are playing in Orlando the first day we arrive). I get to focus on my family and, in some ways, connect with them. They’re growing up with a fascination for Disney, a company that I still derive daily creative inspiration from.
A vacation can’t solve all of my problems. Patience and time will do that. But it’s a trip that will let me focus on becoming a better dad by focusing and embracing the passions that I share with my kids.
Like father, like son.