Poof! Goes the Vision of Picture-Perfect Parenthood
by Frank O'Brien
Reality has caught up to me, and it’s hard to face.
I have two daughters. One is nearly 10 years old, the other is eight. My wife and I are both strong-willed independent people. Every day, I am finding out how much my daughters take after us. These revelations are doing nothing for my ego, nor are they alleviating my fears about my parenting future.
You see, life as a parent was not really supposed to happen like it’s happening. It was supposed to be exactly how I wanted it to be. My children were supposed to like what I liked. I had a clear picture in my head—a perfect vision of my life as a father. There were going to be nothing but happy times around the dinner table. My wisdom was going to flow in a way reminiscent of Bill Cosby-esque pontification. My children were going to look up to me; I would be an understanding, cool, strong and courageous family leader.
It actually worked for a while. My girls seemed enraptured by my sage lessons… at least while they napped or while I changed their diapers. They soaked up my every word like it was gospel. I was, at one time, an exceptionally brilliant man, in their eyes. “Parenthood is easy,” thought I.
Then they started to think… and think a lot. They started school, and they started to interact with other children and adults. Now my grandiose visions of perfection are slipping through my fingers. It turns out I am not as wise as I thought I was. I am not even close to being able to give “sage” advice, and pontificating, I’ve learned, is just a habit I have of talking a lot when I am trying to explain my decisions.
I still have two daughters, but now they have their own minds and their own opinions. These opinions often contradict my own, and are even at times beyond my reckoning. They are formed out in the school yard, the basketball court, or around our own block. It is strange for me because I had just gotten used to having really young children with seemingly malleable minds. Now I have to start all over again.
What if our children end up like us? And what if taking after us is not enough? What if they need more than what my wife and I can give them? What if I have already failed and don’t even know it? It is hard for any parent to face these questions, but we all do, every day.
Maybe this is what the wise masters of yore meant when they said that the struggles of each day would build our character.
So, now that my ego has been checked and I have been forced to face some things that truly scare me, what next? I spent so long pondering my Yoda-like teachings that I am hard pressed to pin down what fatherhood is going to be. The parenting books I’ve read never explained what to do when I reached this point.
I can calmly say that the picture-perfect vision I had of my future life as a dad is gone, but it has been replaced. In its stead are two wonderful kids with personalities I do not always understand and sometimes even clash with. In place of my picture-perfect vision are two lives I am influencing in ways I do not truly understand. I am humbled to know I am a part of something I cannot comprehend. I am reminded of some real sage advice, from an obscure writer and father from a century ago, but still relevant today.
“The father who would taste the essence of his fatherhood must turn
back from the plane of his experience, take with him the fruits of his
journey and begin again beside his child, marching step by step over
the same old road.” ~Angelo Patri
Frank O’Brien is the father of Aideen and Megan, and husband of Amanda O’Brien. He is currently working on a book about his experience in the restaurant industry.