CONSIDERING HOW important the job is, we don’t get much training to be parents.
Sure, the more ambitious mothers and fathers-to-be take some classes or read a book, but otherwise we’re left to stumble through with little more than the example of our elders, what we’ve learned in the hard-knock lessons of life or on-the-job training.
And what can prepare you for the Saturday at 2 a.m. when your toddler’s fever spikes? What do you tell your child about mean and vindictive classmates? Who understands the effective psychology of motivation, or punishment or reward?
On this Father’s Day – nearly 21 years into parenting our two children – I can reflect on two wishes, one that came true and the second that never will.
Wish One: The joy of that first baby made me feel so mortal; the second child doubled my anxiety.
BC – before children – I had turned an indifferent eye to the impermanence of life. Both my parents were deceased by the time each was 50. Growing up was different, the consequence of not having parents was frequently felt, but I never worried “that” would happen to “me.” An anxiety about my own mortality was born with my own children.
It’s natural for parents to want a better life for their children. The improvement I wanted my children to have in their lives was the parenting that was missing from mine. Simply, my hope was to live long enough to see Annie and Will both graduate from high school.
Along the way came the parenting. Oh, I read a book and took a class, but since the time they were babies and even today, I feel like I’ve stumbled through the process.
From my elders I’d gleaned a few things.
I recall my mother making clothes for my sisters. Thrift, creativity, work.
My father told me football practice would be hard. He gave me a glimpse of how delightful the pre-dawn could be. And I can remember him telling me to treat other people as I want to be treated. Work, appreciation, fairness.
After my parents died, my oldest sister stepped up to take charge of the youngest of her siblings, a largely thankless task. Responsibility, sacrifice.
And in the years since — even though I don’t always see my siblings or extended family often enough — they are always there. Family.
What has my life taught my own children? Like a broken record (my era revealed) I know what I tell them.
Don’t take shortcuts – you only cheat yourself.
Writing is re-writing.
Don’t make my mistakes. Make your own.
Too often I see other parents trying to be a friend or pal with their children. I don’t think that’s the job. It’s having the frank, uncomfortable conversation that needs to be said. It’s setting guidelines and a good example. Sometimes it’s saying no.
I can’t say for sure if I have done any of that well or often enough. But I am happy to report I was here for the distance.
On Thursday – which happened to be my birthday – our second child graduated from high school. He was part of a few hundred other students, some of whom I have come to know and appreciate. Three of my sisters were in the audience, along with friends. So was my wife and our daughter.
In the photos from the day I am smiling. I am happy for my two children.
Father’s Day came early for me this year. Thank you, Carole. Thank you Annie and Will.
Wish two: That I could do it all over again. I could never be that blessed.
Joe Butkiewicz is executive editor of The Times Leader. Read his column on Sunday in The Times Leader.