It’s Father’s Day weekend and, despite having four able-bodied children of my own, I’m outside pulling weeds, alone. It’s my own fault, really. When I walked into the kitchen and saw dirty dishes, I said, “All right! Let’s get these dishes done!” When no one moved, I added, “Or you can go outside and pull weeds!”
So the dishes are done and I’m pulling weeds.
Which is fine, really, as I’ve discovered this is a task that provides a whole lot of quality thinking time. I’m thinking about being a Dad and the responsibilities it demands. I’m thinking about what it means to have a family and the sacrifices it requires of everyone. I’m thinking about my own Dad and the lessons I learned from him. And I’m thinking I should have taken the dishes.
Credit comedian Jim Gaffigan with my favorite bit of parenting wisdom. When asked what it was like to have four kids, he responded, “Imagine you’re drowning… and someone hands you a baby.”
All of this has me thinking: Is it worth it? I asked some very similar questions a few years ago and this is what I thought then:
Is the ‘parenting bargain’ worth it?
The human reproductive process offers an odd bargain: a few moments of pleasure followed by several months of discomfort, culminating in an event that – for most people – requires hospitalization.
So it is with parenting: brief flashes of delight surrounded by extended periods of pain, suffering and repetition. It often seems that the role we play as parents could be effectively assumed by a tape recorder, since we spend the majority of our time repeating ourselves (“brush your teeth, brush your teeth, brush your teeth”) hoping for a glimmering moment of gratification (“You already brushed your teeth? That’s awesome!”)
Except, of course, for those things you really don’t want them to learn. I can tell them a thousand times to pick up their socks without making an impression at all, but let one careless utterance escape that includes a word they shouldn’t repeat and all you’ll hear is “damn, damn, damn, damn…” (If you think this can’t possibly be true, picture in your mind my 4-year-old boy, sitting at the kitchen table, who looks up at me and says, “Dad, these apples are damn good!” True story.)
Kids– and everything about raising them– can be the most frustrating aspect of our lives. And most of us put ourselves in this position willingly! It’s as if someone offered you a choice: Would you rather live with this person that you’ve chosen (after a protracted and difficult search), have quite a bit of free time, extra income, and the freedom to do as you please with your vacation time for the rest of your lives, or… none of the above?
Parents, in an act that seems to defy all logic, willingly choose the latter. And for what? That smile on a baby’s face that is reserved only for you? Those hugs when a toddler wraps his arms and legs around you as if he’ll never let go? Those moments when she lays her head on your shoulder and sleeps, with no concern for anything else in the world, completely at ease in your arms and assured of her safety? That instant of discovery when you see them realize something, completely on their own, for the first time? When all the planets and stars align and someone you know, without prompting, says something like, “She’s a great kid” about one of yours?
Well, yes, actually. Exactly that, all of that, and more.
While my kids aren’t quite old enough yet to break my heart, I know those days are coming. But I welcome them, just as I welcome each of the daily struggles and turmoil, because they are all the essence of parenting, bracketed by those other moments of perfection that make it all worthwhile. Can a simple smile or a hug or a statement like “I love you, Daddy” really be worth suffering all those other moments?
Absolutely. I’d choose door number two every time.
It’s clear to me today that I’d still make the same choice. And I’m glad my parents did, too. So thank you, Mom. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I’m thinking of you today and every day, and counting my blessings for the way you embraced the parenting bargain.