Naturally Clueless Parenting

Larry 011Dad holding my brother Mickey and me, apparently before I had developed anything resembling a spine.

Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, has this to say about Fatherhood:

“Much of life, fatherhood included, is the story of knowledge acquired too late: if only I’d known then what I know now, how much smarter, abler, stronger, I would have been. But nothing really prepares you for kids, for the swells of emotion that roll through your chest like the rumble of boulders tumbling downhill, nor for the all-enveloping labor of it, the sheer mulish endurance you need for the six or seven hundred discrete tasks that have to be done each and every day. Such a small person! Not much bigger than a loaf of bread at first, yet it takes so much to keep the whole enterprise going. Logistics, skills, materiel; the only way we really learn is by figuring it out as we go along, and even then it changes on us every day, so we’re always improvising, which is a fancy way of saying that we’re doing things we technically don’t know how to do.”

It’s a wonder any of our children turn out as well-adjusted as they do. We truly don’t know what we are doing, at least in part because we’re so darn young when we have them. Parenting is for the young because as it demands the energy of youth, but when you look back on your young-adult self you realize how much you thought you knew when you really knew very little at all.

Parenting is humbling, because you have this little bundle who is more demanding than the most controlling boss, and they have terrible communication skills.

Every parent has endured the sheer terror of an infant in full cry, and not knowing what the problem is. You immediately start trying different things: check their diaper, shove a pacifier in their mouth, give them a bottle, pick them up.

You don’t know what you’re doing, you’re just trying stuff and hoping it will work.

Imagine if you took your car to a mechanic because it’s making a loud noise and he just starts trying stuff, yanking spark plug wires, replacing the alternator, balancing the tires, hoping that one of those things will finally make the noise go away. You’d be appalled.

You’d expect him to diagnose the problem and the fix it. You’d expect him to plug the little code doohickey into the car’s computer, get the code that tells him what’s wrong, and fix it.

Babies ought to come with a little code doohickey that you can just plug in when they start bawling and get a diagnostic code that tells you what’s wrong.

“Let’s see, it says here code 45034—ah, the little booger has gas. He just needs to poot.”

That would be awesome.

But that’s not how it works. It’s trial and error.

All. The. Time.

Parenting is both the most natural act and the most alien. It is natural because the most important ingredient, unconditional love, comes naturally, even before they are born.

It is alien because none of us really know what we are doing when we’re doing it. We really are making it up as we go.

By the time we have kinda sorta figured it out, they become teenagers and everything we thought we knew goes out the window.

Talk about alien. Who is this creature?

But the part that comes naturally, that deep wellspring of unconditional love that we experience at the core of our being, is the most important part. In some ways it’s the only thing that really matters.

Because the most important thing that a person can have is the knowledge that they don’t have to become something to be loved; they just are.

And if you get that part right, the rest is just details.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

Photo credit: Unknown, but probably Mom. So let’s just go with that.

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