Not long after I found out my wife was pregnant, I had a brief conversation with my dad about the excitement I felt in anticipation of becoming a father. One of the things we discussed was my approach to fatherhood.
Like all first-time dads, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. What helped me most was observing the parenting styles of my circle of “dad” friends. I related to them more than my dad because we were closer in age and had grown up together in life experiences like college, marriage and now kids.
Of course, I didn’t tell my father this. That could be a hard pill to swallow. What I did reveal to him was a simple, yet honest prediction. There would be things he did I would definitely try with my son, Emory; but there were many things I probably wouldn’t. He told me he understood, which honestly was somewhat surprising to me.
One of the many lessons that comes with age is realizing the parents you idolized growing up aren’t perfect. They aren’t superheroes. They’re human. Humans with flaws, emotions, insecurities, dreams and fears of their own, just like you and I. And while you fully understand they did the best they could, seeing them through the lens of your own adulthood, especially parenthood, is an eye-opening revelation.
It can be equally challenging to come into your own as a father while wrestling with some of the decisions your parents made for you when you were younger. For example, I often think back to how I was disciplined as a child. Getting a “spanking” was the norm for me when I acted up. And I can write with confidence that most people I knew growing up experienced the same. The concept of “timeout” was laughed at back then. It’s one of those things you don’t think much of until you grow up and become a parent yourself. Sure, that’s how it was done in your day, but you now know better ways of doing things.
So for me, I knew physical discipline was not something I wanted to do as a parent. As my son reaches the age where small tantrums are the norm and he realizes in his little brain that he can say “no” to me, I have to, as a father, practice the same patience I ask of him when he wants something right away. And I want him to be able to express himself and ask questions, knowing that I’m going to allow him to do so, while being firm in explaining how and why he was wrong.
It’s a weird dynamic, though. I’m not only seeing things through the lens of fatherhood now, but also very much relating to what it’s like to be a son. Those feelings, both positive and negative, are still fresh in my mind. As I navigate through my journey as a dad, knowing how many of those experiences growing up felt then and how they feel now, in hindsight, is enough. I understand I need to approach parenting differently in some ways than how I was reared.
And that’s not a bad thing. Just as we evolve in other areas in life, each generation should be able to evolve its parenting styles as well. We should allow space for growth. We should embrace differences of opinions, approaches and thoughts that contrast those of our parents and guardians. There’s freedom in doing things our way and feeling it is in the best interest of our kids. Just as our parents did.
Nobody’s perfect, though. Not even our parents. With each passing day I realize how hard it is to raise a human while balancing other life responsibilities. It allows me to look back fondly at my upbringing, despite what I feel could’ve been done differently.
The irony in all this is that one day my son will be my age and probably have the same feelings toward me. I just hope that when that happens, he’ll know that I tried my best. Just like I know my own dad did.