Dad and I were texting a few months ago, in fact, it was a conversation prompted after my piece about untwisting psychological knots that have long restricted me, when he told me how reading it resonated with him in a lot of areas that caught him off guard (more or less). We got to talking about his dad; my grandfather. We really don’t talk about him much. I guess there really isn’t much to prompt it, granddad having passed when dad was 5 (in fact, so rarely, so referring to him as granddad feels really odd, but kind of fulfilling in a way, because I’ve never had anyone in my life to call granddad).
Unfortunately, my phone has since died and I lost that conversation, but it helped spark a strand of thought I had been cooking prior. Progressing through my twenties has had me thinking about my dad a lot; thinking about him in the sense of a father and how effective he was as a father. Not in the sense that I am rating how well I think he raised me or anything like that, you can’t rate that kind of thing, and if you tried, he’d be off the charts, but just wondering how terrifying fatherhood has to be for a man who had no father.
As far as I know, he never really had a stable father figure either, some sort of anchor in his life for a long period of life. I’ve read some literature that touches on the social effects of boys growing up without fathers or men in their lives who can fulfill that roles, and the ways it tends to mold them differently. Yet, I’ve never really dug much up on the other side of the fence and how alien parenting must be for someone to take on the parent role having grown up without parents.
So here I am again, writing about parenting. I think about it a lot. I don’t write about it a lot. It’s inconvenient. I’m at an age where most of the people I know are now young parents, and strong opinions toward raising children and what not cement themselves.
Who am I — some punk, irreverent bachelor with no kids on the horizon — to say anything about parenting?
Fair enough, there are certain chasms of knowledge that I’ve yet to experience first hand. One day I’ll fill them. But I still have some ethos to have my own perspective on aspects of parenting.
I know because I have parents. I know because I know other parents. I know because I am a child of two parents.
I know, I just know in a different way.
So here it is, that thought that I gnawed on like a worn piece of gum:
Why Parenting is Hard
If I were going to sit here and spit off a list of why parenting is hard, or regurgitate the same missive on what is, for many, the greatest calling in life, then I wouldn’t waste my time writing. I’m not here to build a list. I’m not going to regurgitate the same drivel that anyone who can speak at a 6th grade levels knows. I want to hone in on a single element; a single angle that, in my experience, is a unique take on it.
Disregard all those reasons why parenting is hard. We know them. This is not THE reason parenting is hard, but just a reason that frightens the youth out of me.
Let’s trail back to that conversation dad and I had. When I write, I try to bare all. Not that it is my intention to be an introspective exhibitionist, but rather, I don’t want to obscure anything. So if I cover something, I try to make sure I’m not curving my punches, but what is read, is what is.
I’m accustomed to hearing feedback from dad when I drill to the core of my person. More than any other, when I laid out all my personal confidence struggles, devalued view of myself, and struggle to untie personal knots with one hand, he not only found out a lot about himself, but also his son.
If I hadn’t written that, how would he had ever known any of these things? When I was 8 and feeling a complex bevy of synapses, how would he ever had been able to know? I wasn’t old enough to convey or understand. Or when I was 12 or 15 or an adult, emotions and wiring fully baked from all those intricate thoughts that were beyond my young processing abilities.
He never would.
Thus enters the terrifying part of being a parent. You spend a lifetime getting to know these individuals who are more like you than any other person there is, but there is a built in obscurity that, on many levels, will never be lifted.
I think of my niece (12) and nephew (6) often. There’s no way any of us can really know how they feel and think about a lot of things. The foundation, yeah, but there are emotions, fears, anxieties, desires, aspirations, and more that Ben and Anna have experienced, will experience that nobody in my family will know of until well after it has influenced who they are in the long-term.
Let me back track and reiterate the terrifying thought that I am having; the reason why parenting is so hard.
You’re raising complete strangers.
Just like in the extreme cases, for instance, with a homosexual son or daughter who struggles with the entire sexuality thing until, typically after years and years of inner conflict, comes out. It doesn’t change who the son or daughter is at all, and, in pretty much every way possible, they are the same exact kid that they raised and grew up to know, but it is also a huge piece of their individuality that the parent had no clue about.
This is just an extreme and stereotypical example. Now consider that you can fragment this and multiply it many times over. It doesn’t have to be with supposedly monumental things, it could just be some sort of small resentment or regret, but because parent and child grow up with a misconception (or because it develops into one over time), there is an unknown element that develops.
When a child is a baby, a young child, and perhaps a little bit beyond, there is less space for shadowed personality. As a child grows, they grow into more individual space. With space comes more illumination creep. No matter how close you are, how well you communicate, there will always be shrouded passages and hidden corridors of a person that go unnavigated.
There’s a dichotomy. The older parent and child get, the better they should know each other, yet they concurrently know each other less!
The fact that I can have the tightest possible bond with someone possible and they still be a stranger to me is something that scrunches up my mind, sometimes removing my ability to sleep.
I guess when you think about it, this is a more natural role for the child. We get used to the fact that we have these blank, corrupt sectors of knowledge about our parents lives because we weren’t there for the entire thing like they are for us, and that might be one reason why it’s so easy to overlook that it works both ways, just subterraneously with the child.
Why parenting is even harder than just that
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Taking into account this fact mines greater challenges for any parent and their beloved children. This might slip back into the typical list of never ending challenges of parenthood, but puts it in a more intense light: parenting never stops.
That’s incomplete, sorry. Rather, parenting never stops changing. I see many parents who have the building blocks down; nursing, raising kids to interact with other kids and the world around them, transition into full-fledged people, and then letting go of the recently removed training-wheels bike into adulthood! Transitions also seem like an absolute bear as a parent, perhaps none more so than the adult to adult transitions.
I could touch on any number of reasons why, or you could watch or read any of the never ending supply of dramas and artistic pieces that touch on it, but the obvious connection is one that I sense doesn’t happen as often as it should.
I’m a grown man now. Not only have I been able to convey the intimate, intricately complex architecture of my own soul for years, but I am recently arriving at a point where I am really able to understand just exactly how the labyrinth of my inner workings are laid out.
My mom and dad taught me many things. They taught me how to use a toilet and keep good hygiene, how to properly treat others, how to drive a car, how to make good decisions whether trivial or difficult, and a massive curriculum of life stuff that we all need, but nobody taught me how to revisit my childhood, my teenage years, my young adulthood, my life, and talk to my mom or dad about it, and where I’ve ended up today as a result of a lifetime of layers compounding onto each other.
Nobody was really teaching to that them, either.
Many never get to that point.
Many never fully transition into the adult-adult parent-child relationship, and I think this is a large part why. By the time we grow up, we’re largely strangers because of all that space we filled out on our own. Most of the space that we filled out, was rooted in microscopic interactions, pressures, and switches that traced into larger vectors over years and years.
Parenting is hard because I don’t know if you can teach that to either party. I don’t know if you can prepare for it. I imagine that when you wake up one morning and read shards of your son’s mind that were more non-existent than Area 51, or visit the once lost countryside of your daughter’s heart in words, whether written, spoken, or passed along, you’re taken back to an era of discovery that you haven’t experienced since they were little tikes telling you about their secret night job where they make $1 million dollars sewing capes for Superman so that he can fly (and wondering how on Earth they dream this stuff up). Except, in this case, it isn’t a innocence packaged in childlike innocence, but one usually crumpled in the imperfections and oft-fragile packaging of growth.
I’m thankful that I’ve always had a writing outlet. Sometimes, I have a lot of trouble adequately conveying my web of thoughts unless I can sit down and move everything around like pieces to a puzzle. I’m blessed to have parents who have come to understand that we are strangers in many aspects, simply because we grew into them that way, and that we will always be coming to know each other more deeply in ways that used to elude us. I’m glad we can share that experience in both directions.
I’m honored to be a son to a pair of radical people, but maybe even more honored for them to consider me among their best friends.
Nobody asked them to keep making these transitions, but just like nobody asked them to wipe my butt and feed me when I was crying, they did so lovingly.
Parenting, I know nothing about it first hand, yet I know; it’s hard, but it’s even more fulfilling.
(Happy birthday, dad)