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!