As fathers, and as parents, we know that whatever is within us is imposed upon our children. Whether it’s our jacked-up DNA or the baggage we carry from personal traumas, we can’t help but infect our kids with who we are – who we REALLY are. This is an involuntary imposition. Most of us want to share the good and excise the bad inherited traits in our kids.
But parenthood doesn’t always work that way.
I’ll start with a confession: I’m chronically anxious. I am afraid of everything and nothing all at once. I know that sounds impossible, but the things I should fear, I don’t. It gives a false impression of courage and confidence, but it’s just unhealthy. Rational fears have almost no place in my life. The irrational, the improbable, the highly unlikely, the complex web of “what-ifs” — those cripple me daily.
Over the years I’ve put genuine effort into keeping my inner struggles from impacting my children. For a while, I was sure I was succeeding. I made a lot of changes, and if I may boast a teeny bit, I made amazing progress. Sadly, it wasn’t enough.
As my oldest child’s personality began to emerge, my attempts to change the outward expression of my inner struggles clearly worked with her. The same struggles were embedded inside my daughter. It was the betrayal of DNA.
She becomes quickly discouraged by a simple task, seemingly overwhelmed by very minor obstacles. She latches onto a feeling and it overwhelms her and consumes her, leaving her unable to keep herself from spiraling. Too many variables can crush her forward progress. What for others is a quick decision — grab the thing and go – for her is a quagmire of possibilities with no clear path forward. She gets stuck.
Just like her dear ’ol dad.
Hope never gives up
For example, tonight is supposed to be her first sleepover. Last night she was shaking. Panicking. Terrified of the sleepover. In her fits and worries, in her frustration and anger, she asked if she could see a therapist.
It’s heartbreaking to know this is my fault. What broken strand of proteins have I cursed my daughter with? It’s clear she has the same poisonous voices in her mind. Her brain leaps to the darkest outcome for the darkest reasons – just like mine. It feels like an unbroken connection to ancient Celts on forlorn, rocky shores cursing the gray skies, fearful they may not survive another harsh winter.
But as parents, there’s one thing we can never do. It’s an option we discard when we embark upon this great adventure of parenthood: we can’t give up.
There’s no time for belly-aching. Our kids need our help now. Right now. We can be honest about our failings, and gentle in our solutions, but there’s no retreat here. We only get to move forward. Not trying is the only way we truly fail them.
I wish my pessimistic mind was able to gaze toward a horizon I believe to be filled with rainbows and chirping birds, but I know there’s no solution to this problem. There’s only learning how to cope. My brain will forever be this way. I’ve done the therapy and I’ve done the work. I’ve discarded the indoctrination that blamed invisible forces existing in imperceptible realms. All of these tools have been transformative, but the storms remain.
My hope is these words don’t discourage my fellow parents. My goal is to encourage, to empathize, but above all, I hope this acts as a reminder about the sacred oath to our children. It’s our job to raise them to be superior to us in every way. We must accept we can’t “fix” them, in the same way we can’t fully “fix” ourselves. We can be a little better every day and so can our kids.
I’m going to break the fourth wall here a bit. (Yes, I know, it’s a bit of a hack thing to do, but I don’t care.) A few paragraphs ago, I mentioned my daughter was having a mild panic attack regarding her first sleepover. As I’m re-writing and editing this, it’s the next morning. She made it through the night! I was unable to do the same at her age.
See, there’s hope, fellow parents. There’s always hope.
Of course, my daughter’s strength may come from her mother’s DNA.
Ahhhh, dammit …
Inherited traits photo by Anna Shvets via Pexels.