When I first found out that I was going to become a parent for the first time, I had one goal: I was going to be a better father than my own father. Sure, there were nuances within that goal, specific things I was and was not going to do, but the overarching theme of my personal parenting goals was “be better than my dad.” At the time, when thinking about parenting, all I could see were the mistakes, the problems, the bad things that I was going to fix, and boy was I ever going to fix them. I would have done anything to prevent becoming my father.
We’re all here in Maine visiting my dad right now, and I can see more than the mistakes at this point. If this is not too arrogant for me to say, I think I understand him better now than I did when I was a kid, or even when I was a younger man. And I am told by my wife that I am more like him than I intended at the beginning. I do think I am a better father (ok, that was arrogant), but how much of that is generational? When I was growing up, raising kids was the mother’s job, culturally. I am much more hands-on, but is that my own choice? Or the choice of my generation? Regardless, I do things a lot differently than my dad did. I suppose time will tell if what I am doing works out any better than what he did.
As I watch my father play with my son, perhaps being a better grandfather (?), it makes me think about what I want for my son as he grows up and has kids of his own. I think my earlier goal still stands. I want him to be a better father than me. I want him to learn from my mistakes and be something more than I could ever be. I want him to be kinder, and more patient. I want him to never hurt his children, not not scar them as they grow into flawed adults. And I know that perfection is impossible, but if he could get just a tad closer than I did I would be happy.
And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that I am a terrible parent (most of the time). I think I do an okay job. But if the next generation could be a little bit better, and the one after that just a little more, perhaps we could move on to perfection eventually. And if my son is going to end up more like his dad than he had ever hoped, then I pray he takes the good parts of me with him, and leaves my mistakes behind for history to forget.