So there’s this old Chris Rock bit I’ve been thinking about lately and yes, I know it’s dangerous to be white and reference Chris Rock - I’ve seen The Office - but I’m going to try and navigate this. It’s the one where he’s saying what OJ Simpson did isn’t right, but he understands. Which, yikes, but also it’s pretty funny and makes me think about parenting.
Maybe that isn’t the best transition. Let me be clear that I would never hurt my kids. Like, ever. I love them, they’re my whole world, and they are my non-retirement home contingency so I need them to not resent me. I’m just saying that I used to think “how could anyone ever shake a baby” and now I’m like “oh yeah, shaking babies is really, really bad and I will never do it … but I understand.”
I remember when my firstborn was 3 months old, wouldn’t breastfeed, had constant gas, and (we would discover later) eczema. Literally every night he would wake up and scream, and scream, and scream and scream and not stop even though we had done everything a human person could possibly do and we had read all the books and followed all the advice and read online that what we were doing or not doing or considering doing was probably killing our child and please God make this stop I will literally do anything, even stop drinking for … okay maybe not that, but anything else.
I have seriously never felt more helpless, worthless, furious, and about 100 other -ess’s than I did during those months. There’s this image out there of what being a parent is like. I thought when your child was born it was supposed to be this magical, spiritual moment where angels descended, Handel’s Messiah played in the background, and the word meconium was never, ever used (I am not linking to that and if you don’t know what it is I am not telling you what it is [shudders]). And as your kid gets older there’s these softly lit scenes of dancing with your daughter or teaching your boy to ride a bike and it all looks straight out of a laundry detergent commercial.
But a lot of times that’s not how it goes. Sometimes the delivery process is terrifying. Sometimes the first few weeks are like emotional Navy Seal training. And if you’re like me, the first few months I felt completely worthless as a dad, on the outside looking in, feeling like there was nothing I could do to help as my wife struggled with first-time motherhood. And as the kids get older your kid starts literally screaming at you because you tried to put him in the wrong pajamas and all you can think is “my kid is literally going to be a mass murderer.”
So if today you’re feeling like a failure, or having an “I understand” Chris Rock moment, just look at yourself in the mirror, focus on how astonishingly attractive you are, and then say this: I’m not the only one. You know what else? You’re probably even doing a good job! Like, is your kid alive? Will he/she more than likely STILL be alive in 24 hours? Does your child seem to have a general sense of being loved? Yes? DUDE, you are CRUSHING this!
Seriously man. One day I asked an older dad I really admired what the secret to good parenting was. He paused for a second, looked at me, and then said “love them as much as you can, and play with them as much as you can.” That was it. Then he just faded away into nothingness like Yoda in Return of the Jedi. Okay that last part isn’t true, but what he said is.
And I thought “okay. Okay. I can do that.” And I can. And so can you. Because you’re a Bad Dad.
Now let’s do the man hug - handshake in between with two pats on the back - and get back to it.