So my wife and I were talking late one night about what it means to be a dad. It was a very long and interesting conversation where we discussed model dads that ranged from Bill Cosby to Captain Awesome to Lawrence Fletcher. The epiphany that the conversation ended with, however, wasn’t anything about model fathers or even fatherhood in general — it was about the nature of growing up.
I didn’t realize it, but I had this powerful unconscious notion that growing up was congruent with becoming a douchebag. To be more specific, I was afraid of thinking about what my son would be like in college because I couldn’t see him keeping the same sense of fun and wonder that he has now. I could picture him being honest, sunshine-y, happy, friendly…any number of good things — but I couldn’t shake the notion that he’d also be cynical, forgetful, and mildly manic-depressive.
Why would that happen? Well, because that’s just how grown-ups are, apparently, in my mind. In short, I have a preconceived notion of what adulthood means that apparently prevents adults from being sparkling, happy creatures. Which is stupid, because I acknowledge on a regular basis that my wife is a sparkling, happy creature (most of the time), and that’s part of why I love her and want her around. I would like to consider myself a sparkling, happy creature too, and I try to be, but I feel like success happens less often than I’d like.
We read this great book a year or so ago called Secrets of the Millionaire Mind. Among other things, the chief lesson of that book was that your attitude toward wealth is created in your youth, and the only way to change it is to consciously acknowledge what it is and consciously decide to choose a different way to think about wealth.
Well, as it happened, I’m not particularly interested in changing my attitude about wealth, but that same lesson applies to just about anything. Your attitude about (insert subject here) is created in your youth, and the best way to change it is to become conscious of the origins of your attitude. Then you can examine your attitude from a ‘third-party’ perspective and acknowledge that other people have other experiences that inform them differently — and you have the power to choose to believe whatever you desire. (If you haven’t seen This Is Water yet, stop reading, watch it a few dozen times, and come back.)
My wife and I look at each other all the time after watching that video a few hundred times, and we say “This is water,” meaning “We acknowledge that this situation could be making us miserable, but we choose to create beliefs that add meaning and purpose to an otherwise banal and irritating circumstance.” Then, we tell stories about why people around us are better than they appear.
I could — should — be doing this about growing up. There’s no reason whatsoever for me to hold on to my beliefs about adulthood turning people into jerks. It makes me upset and it hampers my ability to enjoy the ever-increasing awesomeness that is my son.
I keep hearing people say of toddlers, “You spend a couple of years teaching them to walk and talk, and then a couple of decades teaching them to sit down and shut up.” That’s exactly the kind of cynical bullshit that has me so grumped about thinking about the next decade of my life. The fact is, I love the fact that my son is crazy mobile and spends a quarter of his time upside-down and/or airborne. I love the fact that he constantly wants to share what he’s doing with me — it might not be relevant to what I’m doing, but he’s trying to share with me because he wants me to participate in his life.
I can rebuke him, and tell him that I’m too busy to listen to fifteen seconds of admittedly pretty inane, usually Phineas-and-Ferb-related nonsense (today it was “The sun needs to be about 20% cooler,”) and what I’ll get for doing so is a teenager who doesn’t think I give a crap about his activities and ideas. Or I can indulge him, and yes, it breaks my focus for a moment and it might take me a little longer to get my work done (by less than a minute) — and what I’ll get is, I hope and pray, a teenager who knows that I want to be participatory.
I can control, at least to a limited degree, whether or not my son grows up to be a douchebag. But so long as I have it fixed in my head that it’s going to happen regardless, my own hopelessness and cynicism are going to rub off on him whether I want them to or not. If I want my kid to be sparkly, I have to be sparkly.