02 May 2014

I'm nothing, if not a failure.

I am a father.

I was 12 years old when I decided I wanted to be a father. I knew then that I wanted to be a dad, wanted to raise a little me, and wanted to dedicate my life to giving everything I never had to someone that was a part of me that no one else could ever be. I wanted to be a parent more than I wanted anything else at the age of 12, and after years of patience, it finally happened. Xekan arrived!

I was 27 when my son was born, and it was everything I ever wanted and more. I fucking love being a parent. Raising my son is the best part of my life, and what I am most proud of. I can't even begin to express just how much I love being a father, and watching my son grow into this amazing person that I helped to create. It's fucking amazing.

Being a parent is what wakes me up in the morning and pushes me to accomplish things I never wanted to accomplish at any other time in my life. Like most parents, I find myself talking about my son and being a father more often than not. Given the chance, I will annoy the shit out of anyone with stories about how insanely wonderful Xekan is and how much I love being his father. I love my son and I am so proud of him and proud that I get the honor and privilege of being such a large part of his life.

Tubs have the best acoustics.

He's also a calm gamer.

Why would I want to be anything else?

There's more, though. Something I haven't mentioned yet, and something that I think too many parents are forgetting, especially mothers. You see, I'm not just a parent. It's true, and I know it can be hard to believe at times, but there is a lot more to me than just being a father. I wasn't born a dad, nor inducted into fatherhood at an early age. I was a lot of things before becoming a father. In fact, I am still a great deal more than just a father. Being a parent is an honor that I hold, and one that I cherish above all others, but it isn't my identity. I happen to be a writer, albeit a very poor and unpublished writer, but a writer nonetheless. I'm also a dreamer, a wannabe artist, a crappy musician, a friend, an IT dude, an atheist, a skeptic, a survivor, a lover, a joker, a white knight, an asshole, a bad poet, a podcast addict, a Whovian, a back porch philosopher, a psychology enthusiast, a brother, an uncle, and so so so many more things. Not one of which is vast enough to encompass me. I don't think anyone can be put into such a bubble, yet I see people placing themselves into these molds far too often.

Everyone knows that one parent that lost all sense of self the moment their child was born, and they became a parent and only a parent, right? No. No, that's wrong. Let me rephrase. Everyone knows a few groups of parents that lost all sense of self the moment their children were born, and they became parents and only parents, right? Yes, of course you do. They tend to find one another and treat parenthood as some kind of exclusive club that only an elite few are allowed membership to. It’s kind of creepy. Not staring too long on the bus creepy, but Stepford Wives creepy. That creepy that makes you think you're one glass of chardonnay away from being a matching set of diaper bags for a small group of enthusiastic parents.

How'd these people come to be this way? Any guess you make is probably going to hold true to someone. Some may have given up everything because of an obsession with parenting that might have been triggered by all of the books they read during pregnancy, others may have taken on the parental identity as a way of coping with an unplanned pregnancy that caused them to give up a lifestyle they were not ready to give up yet, or perhaps they had a parent or parents that made parenting their sole identity instilling in them ideals that led them to grow up only dreaming of being a parent. It could be their way of coping with financial struggles that keep them from doing anything else, or because they feel guilty or selfish any time they do anything that is not for their child. Perhaps they're just afraid of failing in front of their children and being seen as weak or less than perfect. Maybe it is a conscious thing, maybe it isn't - truth is it doesn't really matter. Whatever the reason, they are no longer any of the things that they were before their child was born, nor are they interested in becoming any of the things they wanted to be before becoming a parent.

It is more than just creepy, though. Being a parent should not be our sole identity, because we are not the sum of our children. What kind of example does that even set for them? Children tend to want to grow up to be like their parents. Qualities like passion develop from seeing it in action. Inspiration, magic, reverence, awe - these are things you cannot tell someone to feel. Children see mommy painting in her free time, and they want to become an artist. Maybe they only want that for a moment or two, but that little inspiration they get from watching their mother paint will give them an appreciation for art that they would never get from having that same mother buy them art supplies and just try to teach them to do those things. The real inspiration doesn't just come from painting with her; but from watching her creating her own art, on her own accord, because she loves it and is passionate about it. It’s in seeing her face light up as she shows them her latest creation or is suddenly struck with inspiration for her next piece. Same goes with kids watching dad play his guitar after dinner on the weekends, because he loves to play. It gives an appreciation that one doesn't get from being forced into music lessons by parents that do not seem to have any interest in playing themselves. Even the grandparent with the incredible collection of books that they are always reading and adding to, that instills into the child the importance of reading and learning. It all matters. You've got to be more for your children than just a parent. You have to set examples for everything that made you who you are. You can't just tell them what to do and expect feeding them and loving them will be enough. They not only need to know who you are, but they deserve to know who you are. You are their parent, and who you are matters to them.

It is your responsibility to show them how to be passionate. Passionate about anything, everything, something! You have to inspire, experiment, and encourage by enjoying the things you love as well as finding new things to love and enjoy as you continue to grow as a person. How else can you introduce them to these things and expect them to hear the beauty in a painting, feel the emotion in a song, and smell the history and imagination in an old book? They need your example.

Daddies are the best swing stabilizers.

There once was a man from Nantucket...

I feel very passionately about this issue. I'm unsettled by the idea of losing one’s self when becoming a parent, and I think I should give a little background and explanation as to why it is so important to me.

I grew up in a home with my grandfather and 4 generations of women in a tiny trailer in rural West Georgia. Mother, sister, grandmother, and aunt. My father wasn't around much, but my grandfather was, and he worked his ass off to support us all. The adults worked so much that most of their free time was spent sleeping or watching television while the kids stayed outside until it was time to eat or go to sleep. There was no energy for anything else. No one encouraged me to read for fun (I was 20 the first time I read a book for pleasure), even though my grandmother was a bit of a Grammar Nazi that I caught reading trashy romance novels a time or two. No one pushed me to play music, even though my father is a pretty good guitar player, and my mother I'm told was a pretty good drummer (apparently skateboarder and marksman are also part of her childhood resume that my sister and I never witnessed). I was never encouraged to pursue art, either, even though one night my grandfather let it slip that he'd enjoyed art as a child. It was never mentioned before, or after, but that one evening I had a sketch pad out and he saw me trying to draw a face and became very excited about it. He sat down with me, and he showed me how to draw an eye that didn't look like it belonged on a Simpson's character. He talked about how he loved to draw and paint as a kid; but I'd never seen him do anything outside of working on cars, computers, and electronics other than fishing when he had even an hour of free time (though we did watch quite a few westerns and a lot of Doctor Who when the ladies allowed us control of the TV). Other than that eye, I've still never seen anything he's created.

The thing is, I never got any kind of encouragement like that, and while I don't fault any of them for it, I’m very bothered by it. Bitter, even. My sister is a year and a half my junior and my aunt only five years my senior - I don't think they got the encouragement either. Sure, we were told to join band or play a sport, but I don't remember anyone ever asking me to play them anything I learned on a drum, and most of the time the sports just seemed like forced social activities that was more for them being out doing something than actually seeing us play - which I can hardly blame them for wanting. Like I said, I don't fault them for it at all. Life wasn't easy, and we were always struggling, so who had the time to do the things that they loved?

I never got the feeling that my mother and father ever wanted to be parents, or that they ever truly enjoyed it. My grandparents did, in their own little way, though. The kind of people that complain about the things they're doing, but obviously love doing (my grandmother especially). They are the ones that mostly raised me and my sister, and they loved their roles. Or, at the very least took pride in them. My grandma was a stay at home grandma that kept the home as clean as one can with 6 people in a tiny 3 bedroom trailer on a dirt road. At least until I was about 14 and she decided to work somewhere other than home (she was a babysitter for more than just my sister and me). She became a lunch lady, and she was so much happier doing that than she was at home with children. My grandfather worked from morning to night repairing everything from TVs, computers, and cars to every last thing around the house he could possibly repair. He took care of everyone and was often the only voice of reason in our home. My mother also worked, mostly for a credit office, but looking back that seemed to be as far as her parental duties could go. With an hour and a half commute each way, she was rarely home before bedtime, and never in time for dinner. So my grandparents did most of the major parenting, my grandfather working harder than anyone to support and teach us about responsibility. He seemed to be the most concerned about our character. He is the kind of person that people respect because they want to, not because they feel they have to. Even animals respect him like a strange pied piper, and he’s the primary reason becoming a father seemed so wonderful to me.

After my son was born, I thought about all of those things that kids on TV did that I never got pushed to do - piano lessons, martial arts classes, art classes outside of normal school, etc. I wanted (and still do!) Xekan to have it all.

Shortly after Xekan was born I started noticing patterns. I noticed that the occasional reading my grandmother did drastically increased after all the kids were out of the house. I looked at my grandfather, who had just finished breaking and repairing everything that my grandma would let him break and repair since his retirement, and found that he had taught himself to play guitar and banjo. He's in his 70s and taught himself two new instruments that I had never seen him play at any other time in my life. Not only that, but he bought a couple DSLRs and had taken up photography using online courses that he downloaded and still studies all the time. He was ordering brochures for culinary school, bought a quad to ride around his property, and just started doing all of the things he'd always wanted to do. He and my grandma now take random trips to places they loved when they were younger and they have so much fun doing it. They'll take off on one at the drop of a hat, and come back with little knickknacks for everyone (though my family has always brought me back hot sauce, apple butter, and honey from every place they go. No, I have no idea why they do this, and yes I do find it just as strange as you, but free noms are free noms!) They travel, visit old friends, and they make new memories together that they never did while raising their children. It’s fucking inspiring. My stepfather and mother bought Harley Davidsons, took up scuba diving, and bought a little cabin on a lake after my sister and brothers moved out. Everyone was doing what they loved, but only after they no longer had children at home to care for.

Like a thug do.
I know, I know, I was freaking adorable.

How about some fucking hindsight?

Fuck that. I don't want my son looking back at his father after he has gone off to college or started a family of his own and seeing me doing all of the things I'd wanted to do and didn't because I had made being a father my identity. I don't want him to ever feel like he held me back from enjoying life, because he is what makes life enjoyable and he needs to know that at all times. He needs to know that I am more than just a parent slaving away to provide for him. More than just know it, he needs to see it and have enough memories proving it to never feel it is even a viable consideration. He needs to know that he is an addition to my life, not a burden.

So I decided to make some changes, and in the last year I've started learning things I have always wanted to do, but never did for whatever reasons/excuses I gave myself. I've started learning to speak a new language, play guitar, and even how to paint. I am fucking terrible at every single one of them, but they're fun and I am constantly improving. I do these things with Xekan too, and painting is his favorite (though he loves racing me and his Tio Brent to respond to the Spanish language learning tracks while in the car). I'm even planning on learning to play the violin in the next few months, in hopes that learning two instruments will help keep me from burning out on learning to play guitar. I have reconnected with old passions, like writing and running and going to concerts as well. I'm reading more than I've ever read before, and I am encouraging Xekan to come up with new things to do while incorporating him into all that I do as often as I can (or that he allows). He turns 4 in September, and sometime after that I am going to have him take piano lessons, assuming the teachers that teach kids his age feel he is ready for lessons. Not only am I going to start him taking those lessons, I am going to learn right along with him. Then we are going to train in Bujinkan together. These are just some of our examples, (not including all of the science experiments and things we take apart and put back together) and as time passes more and more things will come up that we haven't yet thought of.

You see, I don't want my son growing up thinking a parent is only a parent and incapable of being anything else. I don't want him thinking I had to sacrifice any of my dreams for him, because I haven't. I do not sacrifice for him, because that assumes I’d rather do or have something else more than him. It says that what I do is out of obligation, not desire. If given the choice between going to a movie with friends, or staying home and cooking dinner with Xekan, I’m going to choose Xekan. I’m not sacrificing, I’m choosing. Making a choice does not equate to sacrificing all other possible choices. That is a mentality that bothers me. I’m not cool with it. I still have passions and dreams and goals that I am actively working toward. Now I am, above all else, most passionate about being his father - there is no doubting that. I'm still more than his father, though. I am all of the things that brought me to the place where I can be his father, and I want him to know that. I want everyone to know that. You don't have to give up everything about yourself when you become a parent and only hang out with other parents. In fact, most of the friends that Xekan and I see most often do not even have kids, and I'm beginning to think that is because I haven't lost my identity to parenthood. I haven't limited my activities and passions to what parents that only hang out with parents do.

We love Deadpool, so we paint Deadpool.

Xekan painted his mother a heart, and then declared his next piece would be a PB & Honey sandwich.

Strongbad, because THUG.

Brass tacks all over the place.

While it is true that I waited to become a parent when I was [relatively] ready, so that I didn't have to make any lifestyle changes, I don't think that's an excuse for giving up who you are. If anything, someone that is young and becoming a parent before they are ready should still have their idealistic dreams that society likes to beat out of those that wait as long as I did (which is not to say 27 is an old age to have kids). Which brings us around to the bullshit we've been programmed to say to each other when expecting a child. When someone becomes pregnant all they are told is how their lives are no longer their lives, everything will change, they can no longer do the things they want, raising a child is going to be the hardest thing they will ever have to do, life as they know it is officially over, so on and so forth. Why the fuck would we say these things?

People having their first child, especially when they're young, are told they have to give up everything that makes them the people they are simply because they're bringing a child into the world. This tends to be taken as good intentions, though I feel it is often said with a tone of disappointment coated in resentment. It's fucking horrible advice either way. It isn't true, and I can't think of anything positive that can be gained from advice like that. Seriously, those are fucking horrible things to say to anyone.

Telling these things to someone may let them know that they have to grow up and be more mindful of their choices, especially if they are particularly selfish and impulsive, but it also sends the message that having kids is horrible. It implies that in order to start a family, you have to be a particular kind of person with no sense of individuality. How often do we all say we are going to be this kind of parent, or that kind of parent? Why don’t we say, “I’m going to be me, just with kid(s)...”? Because that’d be crazy, so we have to put ourselves into a mold and use it to shape us into these made up parental archetypes, even if it means having our souls torn from us. That's horrifying. Isn't that essentially why most people are afraid of dying? Losing who you are is a living death.

So, why would I tell someone their life is over when they become a parent, if I feel like mine didn't really begin until Xekan was born? Why describe it as the most difficult job in the world, when being a parent is the anchor that reminds me how wonderful life is? No, I will not push those thoughts onto anyone, nor will I accept them from any person spouting the nonsense. Being a parent is not a reason to "sacrifice" who I am and what I love for a greater good, but inspiration for me to work harder for the things I've spent my entire life dreaming of. It's the inspiration that pushes me to inspire my son, and that's fucking wonderful. Seriously fucking wonderful.

I guess what I am getting at with all of this rambling, is that I'm sick of people describing something so positive as something negative. Turning themselves into martyrs that sacrifice everything that makes them who they are so that they can be the best parent they can be, while ignoring just how detrimental that mentality truly is to their children. Honestly, is it so hard to see the light in a sunbeam that people have to deny its luminescence in order to fabricate a dim flicker of an interpretation? That’s just ridiculous.

Do I need to repeat anything?

In the end we're all just jelly beans anyway.

It’s ridiculous, because I believe parenting is one of the greatest joys in the universe. Well, it is for me and countless other parents. Parenting isn’t something everyone wants or should do, nor should anyone be made to feel damaged or selfish for not wanting to have children. Parenting is a choice. Regardless of your opinions of the options available, it is still 100% a choice, and it is a great honor and privilege that not everyone is capable of experiencing. Sometimes it’s hard, frustrating, terrifying, and heartbreakingly painful. Most of the time, however, it’s incredible.

Being a parent is a great many things to everyone lucky enough to experience it, but it is not an excuse. Though what parent hasn't used their kids to get out of doing something with friends they just didn't want to do? It still isn't an excuse to give up on your dreams, to throw away everything that makes you who you are, or to stop doing the things that make you happy. The things you want and love may change daily, and parenting may change them more drastically than winning a lottery, but changing your dreams and goals does not equate to giving up on them. Those things are vital in providing the best for your children.

If you really want what is best for your kids, and you believe they can be anything they want if they try, then you have to be ready to show them how to try. Telling them to do something that you are not doing, and using the excuse that you're not doing it so that they can, is seriously fucked up. It’s lazy, riddled with guilt, and just a horrible thing to put on a child’s shoulders. Saying or feeling that way does not make you a martyr. Saying you do without so that your kids do not have to, is not a good parental quality. Unless, of course, you're talking about food and water - things needed for life, not entertainment or creature comfort.

You can't be an artless breeder and expect your kid to stay a dreamer for very long. You can't expect them to want more from life than you've achieved if you are not trying to achieve more. If they see you content with just being a parent without any passions beyond your children, then they are likely to aim for the same life. Likewise, if they see you dwelling on what might have been and feeling bitter with life, accepting that you can't have more and shouldn't even try; well that is probably what they're going to do as well. You can't hide those feelings from them, they will notice. They see almost everything, and what they don’t see, they feel.

There is no excuse for quitting your pursuit of hopes and dreams after becoming a parent. The only deadline we have to achieve the things we want to achieve is death. Until then, there is time to dream and achieve, so don't let having kids convince you that it is too late. That just puts more pressure on them to figure out what they want before they've had time to live and dream enough to even figure out how to know what they want. If you have time to watch television at all, you have time to pursue a dream. You have time to practice a hobby. You have time to work on being the best possible you that you can be. Your kids are not an excuse to give up on yourself.

If, however, you feel that parenting is a noble job worthy of being a person’s sole goal in life… Well, I don't really know what else I can say that will show you why I feel the way I do. I don't know how to explain why I can't accept, what is essentially just having sex, as a legitimate career goal. Even if I could view it as a job, I don't think I could understand the mentality that leads someone to desire a job that has literally no requirements beyond willingness to have sex and having been born with functioning reproductive organs. Would you be okay with your child saying they want to make a career out of earning minimum wage somewhere that employs teens still in high school with no experience or actual qualifications? It pays more than just being a parent does, so why not? I'm guessing you'd want them to want and do things that showcase how incredible they are. Things that utilize all of the potential you see in them every single time you look into their eyes. So tell me why you can't love being a parent and love doing other things. Your potential isn't something you have a finite amount of that transfers into them during conception in hopes that they do more with it than you did. It’s still there, waiting for you to utilize it like only you can.

I can't understand not wanting more from myself or from life, but I can understand the path that may lead someone to that point. Parenting, like all relationships, has the potential to consume us so that we forget that we are more than that relationship. We are more than the best friend, more than the spouse, more than a sibling or nibling or aunt/uncle, more than an employee or boss, and more than a parent. We are our passions, our desires, and every single moment that led to the one we are in right now. It’s important that we remember that, and even more important that we do not allow ourselves to lose or forget it.

If you aren't actively working on who you are and who you want to be, you'll just become a noisy bag of bones talking about who you were and who you could have been. If you feel you've lost your identity, or can't remember the last time you felt like more than a parent, do something about it. Get off your ass and paint a picture, try something you've never done before, attempt to enjoy something you are not good at. Have fun being bad at something, and watch just how fast your identity stops being a singular thing. Then watch your children grow in the ways you've always hoped they would, and never knew they could. Realize that their growth depends so much on you remembering that you don’t stop growing when your height plateaus or your children are born. So long as your brain is functioning, you are growing, and the direction of that growth is solely your responsibility. Own it. Our children depend on us being more than just their parents. They need us to be people, individuals, characters; so that they can grow into the people they want to be rather than who they’re told they should be. Be an innovator so that you can raise innovators, because innovators are what the world needs more than anything else. Baby makers are a dime a dozen, but great people that inspire and create change are priceless.

We are all capable of more than we think, and we can't let the fear of failing in front of our children stop us from testing those capabilities. Failure is key to growth, and should be embraced by everyone. You learn far more from failure than you do from success, and it is important that our children understand this. I’m happy to be a failure for my son, and I hope that when I'm gone he remembers me as more than just his father. I hope he remembers me as a loving failure that encouraged him to fail, learn, and grow with me rather than for me.

So, are you willing to fail for your kid? Can you give up your parental identity and don that of ‘Failure’ for your child? I challenge you to give it a try. Spend 30 days trying things you've never tried before, things you know you will fail at, and then enjoy those failures. Learn from them. Take some time to reflect on them. Embrace them like compost for your soul, encouraging personal growth and pushing aside the dry sand you've had your soul planted in since you forgot who you are. Or, you know, don’t. I’m just some weirdo on the Internet with obscenely high opinions of his opinions, so what do I know?

Embarrassing a two year old is an art.