Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Road to Fatherhood (pt 1)

I am not sure when I realized that I was on the Road to Fatherhood.  Really, it was rather like the feeling one gets when driving along and suddenly realizes that he’s totally lost… er… on an unfamiliar road: “How did I get HERE?” The Road stretches on before me, destination unknown.  But, upon reflection, fatherhood isn’t about the destination: it’s about the journey.

Fasten your seatbelt: it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

I am a chemist by training and a quality control chemist by profession.  In chemistry as in math, physics, and the other hard sciences, there is generally one correct solution to a given problem, and the world (outside the realm of research) runs on predictable lines.  Even the most complex, difficult goal can be achieved by establishing, following, and optimizing a process, a set of tasks done in a predetermined sequence.  Get the process right, and the desired outcome will inevitably follow.

Raising a child… doesn’t seem to work that way.

Once I discovered that I was on the Road, I did what years of schooling taught me to do: RESEARCH.  I started reading books and articles about fatherhood.  I asked my father and brother.  I asked friends.  “HOW DOES THIS WORK?  WHAT DO I DO?”

Very quickly, a basic concept emerged:

Merely showing up will get you a solid C+.

This was a very unsatisfactory conclusion: there MUST be more to it.  I began to sweat over the idea that there would be some specific instance, some single moment in time, where I would say or do the wrong thing (or NOT say or do the RIGHT thing) and BANG!  My daughter’s life would be irretrievably ruined.  Goodbye PhD, hello heroin-addicted pole dancer.  Like a good chemist, I began to go through various scenarios, lots of “what-if’s”.  I talked these over with family and friends.  The response was pretty uniform:

You can’t really plan or predict any of this.  All you can do is do your best.

Well!  One doesn’t send a chemist into the lab to synthesize a compound or analyze an unknown substance with nothing more than a cheery “Do your best!”.  There are… there are… Procedures!  Methods!  Systems!  Processes!  Standards!  Calibrations!  In-process tests and inspections!  A + B = C!  If one follows steps 1 – 28 in a competent manner, then the outcome – the PREDICTABLE outcome – will occur.

By this point, people were starting to worry about me, but I finally grasped the Truth about Fatherhood that they had all being trying to tell me:

Merely showing up will get you a solid A-.

I will do my best.  I will try to anticipate, plan for, guard against, the bumps that might occur in my daughter’s life.  I will read and study and research to try to understand what she’s going through at different points in her life.  I might even talk to her… Novel thought… 

But I have learned (I think!) that a little girl wants less a father who’s got all the answers and more of a father who loves and cherishes her, who does his best to care for her, and who… shows up.  If I can do that… a solid A-.

That’s a better grade than I got in organic!

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