Kids break you. Convinced of your invincibility and imbued with the quiet confidence you have that all the voices saying it changes everything were just the subtle sounds of lesser mortals struggling through that which you will navigate better, you go forth and multiply. Then you are in bliss. Then all hell breaks loose. You are in the eye of the storm, and its destructive power only amplifies its epic beauty. You are broken. Like a wild stallion finally being ridden, you are completely under the control of your miniscule master. Before long he takes an apprentice. One whose natural tendencies to rule all that he surveys are even stronger. Before long you are melted and ready to be poured into the crucible that is designed by the needs of your overseers who act without care for your opinions or your druthers. If you are not yet ready to be poured into the mold of the life that you will lead that is no bother to them. They simply turn up the heat evermore until you are suitably pliable. They do this by nature, whose design they are bound to follow.
Some day you will wake up and discover a remnant from a former life. Perhaps its coins from a faraway land or a ticket stub to a Phish concert or that t-shirt you caught from the t-shirt gun at the ballgame. Or perhaps your high tops you bought because you’d always played basketball and always needed a pair, but they are still in perfect, fresh out of the box condition. Could be as simple as a lighter. Slowly you will realize that the memories these items bring to mind, if any, are of a person that looks a little like you and it definitely happened, but you can’t relate to that person anymore. The memories are fading at the edges and you suspect that each time they spring up from now til the end they will be slightly more fuzzy. Some will disappear. Some must have done so already.
These changes are certainly the evidence of the transformation you’ve gone through in the course of becoming a parent to someone. Much of the change is lamentable because life is wonderful and it ends and this is more evidence that you have traveled more of that road than you wish. But the other thing you notice is that you are happy on this stretch of road. You feel like this is the most meaningful and purposeful stretch you’ll travel. The defining portion of the journey and your grateful to be here. When you take stock of where you are you realize, at least I have, that I’m utterly thankful to my kids for forcing me to grow up. Forcing me to change. The changes they’ve prompted in me are all for the better.
These are the 5 aspects of me that have been formed by my kids that are most important to me at this moment, but don’t ever think this list is complete. Were you to ask me tomorrow I could come up with a different and equally impactful list. But for now, these are the things I’ve learned from raising my sons to this point that I’m eternally grateful for…
1. Failure isn’t final. My kids are growing from little bowls of jelly into fully functioning little people capable of everything from pooping on the potty to planning and executing plots of deviousness that put to shame that which I could ever pull off. In the course of doing so they are prone to encounter failure. Repeatedly. Yet, they never EVER give up. In doing this they have put me to the test as well, and it turns out I learn more from doing the wrong thing then I ever do when I get it right. Failure makes me better, a concept I lost sight of as a free floating adult. But now that I’m tethered to these little loves I’m bound to fail and persist for as long as I can imagine. It’s very exciting to know defeat is a starter’s gun and not a finish line.
2. Truly unconditional love. It’s a romantic notion that we are taught to think is what we are looking for in a mate. And for its purpose of helping us understand love, it’s good. But it isn’t real. Also, it shouldn’t be. Unconditionally loving anyone other than your kids and your parents, if you are lucky as I am, is a myth or it’s a problem. I love my wife fully, romantically, practically and perpetually. She is the love of my life. But unconditionally is dangerous. But your kids, there’s no thought or deciphering needed. It’s truly a feeling, beyond the ability of words to explain, and it’s awesome.
3. How to Cry. It’s not a thing guys do all that much. Perhaps at funerals, but as a young man not even then. Then you get older and perhaps a movie might touch a nerve for you. For me it’s the movie ‘Glory’. Gets me literally every time. But now, with the kids (not to mention I’m an old dad and i suspect I have a vastly diminishing store of testosterone) I’m able to access depths of emotions, even if I still don’t really understand them, that I never could reach before. Now, I can cry just from feeling ‘emotional’. It’s something I would have dreaded before. Turns out it makes me feel more connected. It feels great.
4. How to know my own parents more deeply. Are you kidding me!? My parents had six kids. SIX KIDS! I’m barely treading water with two. Two great ones I might add. How did I spend my twenties you ask? Whining and moaning about the lack of attention we middle kids got. I can’t believe how much I couldn’t see of all they did for me until I was in this position. Now I can’t find enough microphones to express to the world how amazing my life is because I was blessed with two such wonderful, generous, kind, warm, smart and funny parents as mine. Had I not had kids I’d have never understood this. At least not until it was too late.
5. How to stop worrying and live for the moment. People can get real crazy in the middle section of life. There’s pressure from all directions in regard to all things; family, finances, work. It can make you freeze up if you have a moment to think. But whenever it gets to be too much, all I have to do is have some time with the kiddos. They are magically able to remove all worries about all that isn’t right there in front of them, and this trait is remarkably contagious.
For these and many more reasons I find myself forever indebted to these tiny dictators that first went about breaking me only to build a better stronger version. Or maybe this is all a very simple version of the Stockholm syndrome.