“I wonder where they get that from.” My wife has said this to more times than I can count. And her message is clear and correct. The older my children get, the more of my flaws I see starting to sprout in them. It’s horrifying.
How do we get my daughter to be less rigid? This was a conversation we had last night, as we thought about how much she needs to be right all the time, how often she corrects people, and how obsessed she is with the exactness of minutia. Don’t ever tell her to look at the red car. The car is probably an S.U.V. The red is probably scarlet. And on some days, the looking is probably seeing. Everything about your sentence was inexact, thus wrong, and she has a duty to bring you to the side of truth and justice.
I used to be like that. And when I say “I used to be like that,” what I must correctly mean is that I thought I used to be like that. But if my daughter is going down this road, I can’t be as improved as I hoped. Sure, I have spent years working on being kinder, less rigid, open to new interpretations, and yet the evidence is right in front of me. She is emulating someone, and it is probably me. And by probably I mean definitely. And by me, I mean, well, I guess I don’t know.
With apologies to Mitch Hedberg, I now have a new existential mantra. “Hi. My name is Tenor Dad. I used to be me. I still am, but I used to, to.” You see, I thought I had changed. I thought I had improved. I thought I was better. And maybe I am, but it’s not better enough. It would seem that I cannot hide my flaws from my children, cannot protect them from my imperfections, and they will carry this weight with them for what I have to guess will be their entire lives. Just like me.
Parenting is like creating a beautiful work of art, spending decades studying it, discovering all of the details you wish you had done better, honing your craft to master level, training an apprentice, and then watching them create their own beautiful masterpiece with all of the same problems yours had. Really? Can there be no learning or progress in this world? Maybe not. Or maybe we get better by such small increments that it is impossible to detect in one human lifetime. Either way, my children don’t seem interested in learning from my mistakes. They would rather make their own mistakes. And, since the universe thinks it is hilarious, they would rather make the same mistakes as their parents. Must be genetic.
I can whine and mope about this all day, but I must also remember that many of my worst, and best, qualities come from my own parents. I never listened to them either, I made plenty of their mistakes, and still I am here, living a life worth living and struggling ever day to bring more truth, justice, beauty, and love into the world. Some days I fail. Some days I don’t. But the arc of history bends in a positive direction, no matter what is going on the news on any particular day. I have to believe that. There are good times, bad times, leaps forward, and slides back, but if we can teach those who come after us to be even 1% kinder, humbler, more selfless, and more just than we are, I think we are at least on the right track. And then we just pray they can forgive us for all the rest of it.