It feels weird to say it, but I’m the dad. Me. I’m the guy who gets the Father’s Day cards and the cool moniker. I’m the one who demands answers for a bad report card. I’m the one that the teachers call “Mister.” I earned that.
Honestly, I didn’t really earn it. I just sort of had it thrust upon me. There was no interview process or application to make these kids. I just did it. One day I was a jabornie, the next day, I was a poppa. It happened that quickly. I went through a more difficult process to get my high school job at Blockbuster Video than I did to have two children.
Even my son, who is non-verbal with autism, required no special training to have. People hear about the work I do to help navigate his special needs, as many call them, and assume I am some sort of strong person. Maybe I am, but then again, maybe I’m not. It doesn’t matter either way. The universe didn’t check my resume. You don’t take a strength test to have kids like him or any kids at all. You just have them. Make ’em, keep ’em, they’re yours.
So here I am, giving advice and leading the charge when, in all actuality, I might know nothing more than I did before these kids arrived. My wisdom is all on me to garner. I have to pay attention, collect information, and find ways to construct them into life lessons for little people who sometimes roll their eyes or run from the room when I start babbling.
Some of my life lessons don’t even make sense. Like my children, I was taught the ways of the world from the flawed adults who came before me. Some of those adults were dipsticks and, because of that, I learned some dipstickery-tinged life advice that isn’t worthy of being passed on. In some cases, these faulty words of the wise were far from the type of things that should be shared with the next generation.
That is on me to spot and correct, though. While many of us are “set in our ways”, refusing to change when the moment calls, that’s the worst thinking when you have children. None of us are perfect. We know this to be true because we easily spot the imperfections in others. However, we’re all part of the imperfect group. If you can see how flawed your neighbor outside your window is, you should see how flawed the person in your mirror is too.
I learned some bad advice coming up. I was told, at a young age, that “it is better to sit at the back of the table and be asked to move up, than to sit at the front of the table and be asked to move back.” That was a lesson that was drilled in my brain since my days in short pants. I lived by that credo and, as I got older, I grew with that credo.
It couldn’t have been a worse credo.
Years later, I started to realize how poor that advice had really been. I thought about missed opportunities that had passed me by as I waited for my seating invitation. I had been so busy trying not to wedge my way into a situation where I didn’t feel I belong that I allowed others, who belonged far less than I did, to take my place at that table. I failed to put myself first in many moments when I should have. In some situations, I waited until it was too late. In others, I never sat at all.
My kids belong at that table. They belong at the head of that table. My daughter should be seated at the front, no matter what gender others feel should sit there. My son should be seated there too, no matter how many words people think the person sitting there should be saying. Let someone tell my children to move back. When they do, I want my children should tell them “no”. If my son can’t say it verbally, I want him to use his iPad to push the “no” button or flash hand signals. They belong there and they should make sure others know it, rather than waiting for others to tell them. My kids, just as I should have throughout my life, come first. I want them to learn that far earlier than I did.
Of course, if I dig my heels in and refuse to acknowledge that I spent decades following bad advice, then it becomes bad advice I give to them. In the absence of critical self-viewing, I can’t be relied on to tell my kids the right thing to do.
That’s where a break in ego comes in to play. That’s where, in the absence of a parenting application, you have to show your worth. It takes the strength to say, “I’m not perfect. I never have been. I need to show them a better way than I was.”
I try to do that every day. I make changes to my thinking and try to alter my approach to life. If I can’t do it for myself, I do it for them. They deserve better than I have done for myself. The life lessons that served me no good will serve them no good. It’s my duty, as their father, to see that.
Today, I see that. I’m not perfect. I know that. Had I applied and interviewed to be their dad, who knows if I would have gotten the job? But, I did get it and today I stand here as Mr. Dad, the wise old man with all the life lessons. For my kids, I better make sure they’re the right ones.