You guys, I’m not usually this ultra-focused.
Yes, there are moments during the World Cup, or when I’m picking out cheese at the grocery store. In the past few days, fatherhood – and parenthood – have hunkered down, front and center, in most of my thoughts. And writing.
Fatherhood did many things for me.
Do you know Dana Schwartz? She’s a terrific writer who posted about how motherhood obliterated her. Such poignant words, such a vast feeling. Beautifully honest. How utterly unprepared we are at this parenting game.
Hasn’t anyone ever thought of a course in high school that focuses on life skills? Stuff like budgeting, cooking, home repair, the point of knowing when to hire someone to fix something before you destroy a weight-bearing wall in your home?
Home economics died out before I got to the age to take it, perhaps a casualty of a sense of duty to equal rights and wiping out gender roles. But, damn. I could have used something like that.
What was I getting into?
I imagine a setting with guest speakers, real people who’ve been there, who’ve had to stay up all night with a feverish child and still go to work in the morning and also negotiate with the credit card company about a late payment.
I didn’t – and still don’t – want the answer key.
I wanted to understand by association what I was getting into. That my life changed the moment the lines showed up on the pregnancy test? That’s given. The small events that followed – the actual day of birth, holding my child, the deluge of ‘advice’ …
You know what? Forget about wanting help as a dad starting out. It’s over.
I came out of that a changed man, or perhaps, a revealed man. Imperfect, with a catalog of imperfections still to emerge. Did I become the man I was meant to be? Everything before then focused on keeping my own ass alive.
Now, I knew purpose – true purpose, not just getting homework in on time or washing behind my ears.
I’d become so many things in this life – a son, a student, a husband, a writer – which all changed me, altered my makeup and my trajectory. None of those, significant as they were, landed with the gravity and aftermath as fatherhood.
Fatherhood changed everything
It’s so complete, this transformation.
I wonder how much I’d recognize myself pre-fatherhood. Fatherhood changed everything, and much of it I handled with the grace of a thousand rhinos in a second-floor apartment. The thought of failings then stings.
If I’d only not resisted the tide.
If only I’d fought less with change, not pursued parts of me that mattered so little. I’d want the chance to take a car ride with my old self, speak some words of wisdom, shake up a simple mind and narrow focus. But it probably wouldn’t stick.
So much of my pursuit of peace has centered on present mindfulness, which would dismiss several of the previous paragraphs.
I am where I am, now. Rather than focus on losses, I’m beginning to see the wins, or at least, the absence of losses. The ways that my life and my daughters’ lives are enriched, regardless of wrong choices or vanity or gluttony of many things.
Here, WE are, then.
What drives you to be a better dad?
Just as a man trades in his single-guy two-door sedan for a minivan, a man sheds a skin of lone wolf and out emerges the regal air of being a dad. “There’s something hot about an involved dad,” a friend once told me.
If being hot drives you to be a better dad, though, you’re on the wrong track.
How hot can we be in cargo shorts, vehemently denying thinning hair and expanding waists, prevalent gray and a gap between what was cool when we knew it and what’s cool now? (Our cool is better, I’ll tell you that.)
I saw T-shirts in a Myrtle Beach shop window, a brand called Old Guys Rule, and I did a mental fist-pump. Oh hell, I did a physical one, too, because right there on the shirt was John Wayne, the ultimate old guy.
The dude had seven kids and still kicked ass.
It was a reminder to me to not worry about missed chances and failures, because, you know, the play is still going on. The ball’s still in play, and I have fathering to do today. It’s a listening ear and a ride to a game.
It’s guidance on the field, and breakfast in the morning.
Man, it’s given me purpose and focus and when I can get out of my own way, I can even channel a little of the inner John Wayne I need more of. And that’s just the ultra-focus – and ultra-chill – I need.
The rest of the A to Z to this point:
A is for Addiction to Devices
B is for Burgers (3 Lessons I learned During a Month Without Them) Plus 3 Random Smartphone Pics
C is for Interview with a Cat
D is for Do What I Do and Eat What I Eat
E is for Eight Things I’ve Left Behind
F is for Foods That Bring Me Comfort
G is for #GirlsRock: An Interview Mental Health Care Advocate Kitt O’Malley
H is for Halfway There
I is for Ice Cream
J is for Justification for the Blog Life
K is for 7 Women I’d Sing Karaoke With
L is for Last 3 Blogs I Read (and Why You Should, Too)
M is for Men I Forgot to Be
N is for the New Plan
O is for One Day From Payday Spicy Chicken Skillet
P is for Too Many Projects, Not Enough Time (a Guest Post from Kathy of The Second Half of My Life)
Q is for Quote Challenge
R is for Blogger Recognition
S is for Six Words
T is for Teenagers
U is for Unconventional Loves
V is for Vague Differences Between Protecting and Sheltering
I like your idea of teaching life skills in high school. It is too bad that has been dropped from high school curriculum.
As for the life transformation of becoming a parent, I agree completely. Is there any way pre-child us would have listened to our post-child selves? Me, I was the smartest thing on the block (I thought), so I know I wouldn’t have listened. Did I learn? Eventually. Did I apologize to my kids for being a jerk? More times than I care to admit. Despite my mistakes, they are all good people, and caring adults. I tell my kids they are now prepared to deal with eccentric people, given they were brought up by one. 🙂
Seems like life skills might come in handy before trig, right Elizabeth? Hell, how to boil an egg could even help. I didn’t listen to many people at all at that age, so what makes me think the me of today could break through? Some lessons have to be learned on our own.
I bet your kids’ kids will be eccentric, too. It skips a generation.
I’ve also wondered why we don’t learn more life skills in high school. How come nobody taught us how to file taxes or warned us of credit card debt? We spent hundreds of hours in state history but never had to balance a checkbook? So many people get out of school and are sunk in the first year because of the hole they dig themselves financially.
I could use that course now. I could especially have used the lesson about credit-card debt. Those state history lessons are long gone from memory, kind of like that credit card with a zero balance.
We have no concept of finances when we get on our own. As a kid I asked my mom, when she said she didn’t have money for a toy I wanted, why she couldn’t just write a check.
I was lucky my public school in Baltimore made us take “Survival Skills I and II”. (Okay, this was thirty + years ago). One was how to balance a checkbook, do a job interview, tax preparation etc. The second part was focused on health type stuff, CPR, birth control, fitness, eating healthy, first aid etc. Probably the most helpful things I learned in high school!
I’d love to send my kids to that class today, Tracey. I could have had a nest egg and learned to do my taxes on my own. Why are we wasting time on the war of 1812 (we could cover this in one day) and not learning about healthy eating and CPR?
I like to think I graduated with a nice balance of common sense and book smarts, leaning more towards common sense I think. I hope I can do the same for my nine year old, at least on the common sense part.
Common sense ain’t so common, right Tracey? I believe your model of common sense can do more for your child than anything you can tell her!
In the homeschool co-op, i co-taught the life skill class. It’s still much needed, although we never will quit learning and being changed by adulthood and parenthood.
Could you teach us, Mimi? Seriously, write a guest post with 10 lessons. Or five. Hell, three.
I know I’m still learning. I need a series of gurus, though.
Hi Eli – I’m sure I could have done with more at school and at home and been prepared for life after school – and then again been given some life skills later on in life … not having children I can imagine somewhat the transformation it made for you both and the growing family. Wonderful you could help others … that’s the best – cheers Hilary
Lessons come from all directions no matter what. Helping others seems like a can’t-lose situation (unless you’re helping one steal sheep, for instance.)
My son, the honor student, got a grade of D in his high school Life Skills class which he said indicated that he would pass life, but just barely. Now as a parent he (and my daughter, too) seem to be so much wiser and more confident as parents than I ever was. It’s an absolute delight to see them navigate the parental waters. I’d give them each an A+ but I might be slightly biased.
There’s life skills, and then there is Life, Mo. Part of it is innate. Did you know I failed 11th grade English?
Your kids had one hell of a model in their mama, too. Give me a good coach and I’ll give you a good team.
This is so beautiful – I don’t want to mess it up with my slobbery words. You’re a keeper, Eli. Those young ladies are blessed to have you ❤️
These words were kinda slobbery, in this post, Michelle! I’m just a dude lucky to be where he is. I’m blessed.
“Fatherhood changed everything, and much of it I handled with the grace of a thousand rhinos in a second-floor apartment.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. This was a great post on self-reflection.
Glad you could relate! Once I abandoned the misconception of parental perfection, I found life so much more fulfilling. Look forward to reading your stuff!
Thanks, I look forward to reading more of yours as well!
You touched on a subject I have thought about – raising multi-cultural kids.
Yeah, it hasn’t been challenging yet. But I do notice looks that some people give my little family sometimes when we are out. I can only hope my kids won’t have to deal with race issues as much as I have, but I’m also sadly realistic. All children must be taught how to handle these issues the right way.
I’ll be sure to check it out. In a nutshell, I’ve taken the approach with my kids that we’re not making it an issue. There are a lot of reasons that has been easy – our community, changing perceptions, etc.
I’ll develop the idea more before I write it. I’m aware my kids are different, but admit there a lot of kids who come from similar families. I want them to see themselves for who they are more than what they’re made up of.
It’s a tricky balance, isn’t it? You want them to be aware, but not self-conscious. To blend in, but not forsake the things that make them unique.
Well said. It definitely is tricky. Well worth the effort to make sure our kids carry on the legacy of trying to change perceptions.
The coolest thing is, friend, that our kids are the ones making the difference. Love that.
Yes that is a great point 🙂
It’s definitely a post worth reading if you have thought about it yourself 🙂