This post also appeared on www.capecodonline.com/blogs in the opinion section of the Cape Cod Times, a division of Ottaway Newspapers, Inc.
They say it’s only when you have a child of your own that you will fully understand and appreciate your parents.
I’ve only been a dad for five months but I’ve already found this to be true. Every so often I find that I have one of these moments where I just look at Will and I’m flooded with a torrent of emotions. I’m thankful, overjoyed, appreciative and shocked. But lately, I’m also very nervous with anticipation. Maybe it’s because he’s on the brink of crawling which means soon he’ll be walking which means soon he’ll be talking and from there I have to imagine that the years fly by in an unrecognizable blur until one day you’re dropping him off at college.
But watching Will grow and develop has made me think about the difficulties I’m about to face in raising a child. Up until now MJ and I have really been caretakers and not parents. Let’s face it, the baby poops so you clean him. He cries so you feed him. And then you put him to bed. But soon the actual parenting will begin and that’s going to be a real test. So I started thinking about all the trouble Will could get into as he gets older. Breaking windows while playing baseball in the house, wandering off in a department store…you know, all the ordinary stuff that kids will eternally get in trouble for.
But then I thought about the things I did when I was younger. And all of a sudden I realized that I dealt my parents some very, very weird hands. And all of a sudden I realized that you can’t prepare for anything, because eventually your children will throw you for a loop you could’ve never anticipated. Here are some examples:
— When I was 16 my parents found out I was having sex. They discovered this because 1) I left a receipt for condoms on the kitchen table and 2) My girlfriend was hospitalized around that same time because we discovered she had a latex allergy. Unbeknownst to me, my girlfriend called my Dad from the hospital to talk about the fact that we were having sex because she didn’t want him to be mad. As a father myself, I have absolutely no idea how I’d react in that situation and I hope I don’t ever have to find out.
— In my sophomore year of high school, we had to do an Earth Day project for science class that involved pairing up and taking pictures of ourselves cleaning up a corner of town. So my best friend and I went to a seedy part of town that is always rife with litter and we cleaned it up. Well while we there we found some porno tapes and took pictures of ourselves with them. Also, I mooned the camera at one point. So on the day that we were supposed to present the pictures in a slideshow, my friend was talking all tough and threatening to put the slide of my bare ass in the slideshow. He was a goody two shoes and I knew he wouldn’t do it, so I told him he had no balls. Well, I should’ve given him more credit because he did it. The slideshow was “Here’s Aaron and Craig picking up litter. Here’s Aaron and Craig at the recycling center. Here’s Aaron ass for the entire freshman class to see.” The teacher flipped and tried to charge us with pornography in school. We ended up with an indoor suspension and needless to say our parents were notified. I’ll never forget the look on my parents’ faces when they found out what I was in trouble for. And I’ll also never forget the smirk hiding just beneath my father’s “mad face” when he grounded me. Later on he’d say “I never thought I’d have to ground you for showing your ass in school. Why can’t you drink or do drugs like a normal kid?”
— When my junior prom rolled around I asked a girl named Jenn Hupe to go with me and she said yes. But a few weeks later I started dating Terri, who was my first long-term girlfriend. I no longer wanted to go with Jenn so I asked Terri to the prom and she said yes. So because I had two dates I planned to tell Jenn that I couldn’t go with her anymore. Well, my parents found out what I was about to do and they vetoed my plans. They made me honor my initial commitment and forced me to go to the prom with Jenn. I was furious at the time, but now I see why they did it and I appreciate them sticking with a difficult decision. I dread the day I need to get involved in Will’s love life.
— When I came home from college for the first time I had a girlfriend (more on her later in this post) and I told my parents I’d be bringing her home for the weekend. This brought up an interesting dilemma as I just assumed I was an adult now and my girlfriend would be able to sleep in my room with me. My parents didn’t quite know what to do but eventually they came around and allowed us to sleep together. Looking back I know that couldn’t have been easy and I’m not so sure if I’d let Will do the same at 18 years old in my own house.
— And finally, we get to the story of Robyn. Robyn was my first girlfriend at college and she was unlike any girl I had ever dated. She was artsy, into theatre, loved indie-rock and knew nothing about sports. To make an excruciatingly long story short, she ended up leaving me for someone else two months into my first semester. That someone else was named Betsy! Yup, I was left for another girl. It sent me into a tailspin because here I was at college with all new friends, and all of a sudden I’m “the guy who turned that girl gay.” It was just before Halloween and I was a mess because of it. So I drank…a lot. I also agreed to let my girl friends dress me up for the big Halloween party, and so they gave me a dress, boobs, fishnet stockings, etc and off I went to the party to get even more hammered. Well when I got back, I ducked away from my friends and went up to Robyn & Betsy’s room (yup, they moved in together!) and started banging on the door. Keep in mind I’m still dressed as a slutty woman. Finally Robyn answers and is slightly taken aback to find me at her doorstep at 3 am dressed in drag. I looked her dead in the eye and said “I have tits now. DO YOU LIKE ME NOW? IS THIS WHAT YOU WANTED??” And then I threw up on her door. And seeing as how I have no shame, I then proceeded to go on my friend’s late night campus radio show and tell the entire story.
So the next day I called my Dad at work to tell him the news. I didn’t really know how to go about telling him so I said that Robyn had left me for someone else.
“Well buddy, it’s college and there’s lots of new people to meet,” he said, going into fatherly mode. I told him that wasn’t it. But still her persisted with his sage fatherly advice about fish in the sea and whatnot. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore, and I told him that she left me…for Betsy.
There was a good 15 seconds of silence on his end of the phone, followed by the following conversation:
DAD: “Wait…let me get this straight. Your girlfriend left you…for another girl?”
ME: “Yeah, that’s the long and short of it.”
DAD: “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! (unmitigated laughter for a good 2-3 minutes)
ME: “You’re an asshole.”
DAD: “Sorry bud. They didn’t have a section in the Parent’s Handbook on “What to do if your son’s girlfriend leaves him for another woman.”
And that’s just it. There’s no handbook and no set of rules. There’s only life and everything it throws at you. Given what I’ve done to my parents I can only imagine the bizarre situations Will is going to put me in as a father. I’m a little scared, but a little more intrigued!