Monday, March 29, 2010

My Best Friend: Dad

The other day my son took me by complete surprise with something he said.  We were heading out of the house and down the stairs to run a few errands.  On the way down we passed one of our neighbors coming up the stairs.  He greeted Paul and asked him how he was doing.  Without missing a beat, Paul responded that we were going outside, then said, “this is my best friend, Dad!”  I’m not sure what prompted him to say that or how he put the thoughts together and drew that conclusion, but there it was, blurted out as a matter of fact for the world to hear.  In the best of ways his un-coached words broke my heart.

I know my place as Paul’s father:  my roles and responsibilities.  I also know that fathers aren’t the same as friends, especially to a child; I’ve certainly seen the unfortunate consequences of children raised by parent who would rather be their kids’ older, cool friends.  As an observer it’s clear that parents who shirk their responsibility to raise their kids end up with older kids who challenge or disregard proper authority, fail to learn what it means to be responsible or accountable, and in general are only civil when it suits them.  The exceptions that turn out well seem to be very rare.  I also know that as kids grow into young adults, then full adulthood, the relationship with their parents changes.  Not all families are the same when it comes to parents and kids, but generally speaking when the relationship between parents and kids is appropriate, it seems the little ones grow to appreciate the value in what their parents did for them.  This seems true when literal parents are involved, single parents, or other adults who are properly take on the parental role for a child.  I challenge myself with these very words as every day goes by and I’m tempted to step away from the real need to raise my son.  Sure we pal around, but when he needs guidance or discipline, the responsibility is mine.  As tempting as it might be, I can’t step away; there aren’t any do-overs as far as I can tell.  As a dear friend of mine once said, “the old sacrifice for the young.”  So true.
I trust the day will come when Paul’s an adult and our relationship changes into something that’s not only father-son, but also is deep friendship:  perhaps the father-son relationship at its fullest--the relationship that I have with my own father who raised me well when I was a little guy, with love that was both fun and disciplined.  For now though, I’m definitely enjoying fact that I am my son’s best friend.  Just ask him; he’ll tell you so.
It’s great to be a dad!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

I Didn't Get the Memo

Being a first-time dad as a middle-aged man has been interesting to say the least.  It's never been bad, but definitely interesting for a variety of reasons.  One of the oddest things that’s stuck with me for the three years of my son’s life as been a question that’s come my way on too many occasions.  After someone finds out my age (45 this year), they ask, “so was it on purpose?”  My response has been consistent:  of course, there’s no such thing as accidental sex.
OK, I know what I’m actually being asked, but I don’t really like the implication, even when the question comes from someone who's close enough to my wife and I that the question isn’t offensive.  It’s as if a memo went out from the Men’s Department to all the middle-aged guys informing them they shouldn’t have kids after they enter middle age, and it appears I crossed the threshold and recklessly dismissed the memo's authoritative guidance.  Or perhaps I just didn’t receive it.
Being a dad at any age is special and there are certainly uniquely special things about being a dad at different times in your own life.  With my wife and I, we made a deliberate decision to sacrifice our younger years (with all the associated strength and energy) to build an environment at home that would allow us to more comfortably raise a little one--primarily in two areas:  our own maturity and financial stability.
So putting the oddity and perhaps the improper nature of the question aside, I love being a dad.  I mean I really LOVE being a dad, more than I could have ever imagined.  No regrets.  I see and feel my own bodily limitations and know that these wouldn’t be issues if I were a twenty- or thirty-something, but that’s OK.  I still see the world again through the eyes of my three year old son--at times causing frustration for my sweet wife who feel she has two three year olds.  I might be a bit slower (or more cautious) but there isn’t anything I can’t do with my son.  Maybe in 10 years he’ll be able to break my hip, but for now, I’m OK.
Here’s the real bottom line--if the time is right, it’s never too late to be a dad.  Compared to the gain, you lose nothing except perhaps a slice off the ego when folks ask the strangest question, or as you anticipate being in your 60s when your child is graduating from high school.  I’m OK with that though and suspect that most of you other dads out there are too.  For those of you who worry about having a first (or another) child as a middle aged man, I’m your champion.  Go for it!  Who knows, I just might have to thumb my nose at the memo crowd and have another myself.
It’s great to be a dad!