The media are full of heartfelt pieces about Fatherhood; here is my favorite this year. I find myself, as a practitioner, feeling like an impostor, but so do many fathers.
What can a father offer? (Let us leave unaddressed how this differs from the corresponding list for a mother because I’m generalizing from the specific: what can I offer?) I can cuddle. I can listen. I can sympathize. I can teach. And I can laugh. Which of these is best?
Examples are better than principles. We were cleaning up after a party Saturday which involved lots of kids and thus balloons, which had to be taken down and either taken home or popped. My almost-eight-year-old boy got into the popping-balloons thing with a vengeance.
[Oops, I sense a digression.] My Mom has told me of a time when I was really little, of being in a supermarket when they let down many balloons from the ceiling, and if you popped them were prizes (for example “free groceries”) inside, and everyone started popping them and they had to take me outside because I had hysterics and wet my pants.
Anyhow, my son, who has a strong sense of his own heroism, leapt on a big balloon with both feet, but it didn’t pop so he rebounded full-length on the (fortunately carpeted) floor, receiving a severe blow to the back of the head, which evolution, guided by experience as to the behavior of young specimens of Homo sapiens, has equipped with lots of shielding.
But there was my boy lying on his back, hurt and crying. Without thinking I picked him up and without thinking his head was on my shoulder taking, I fiercely believe, some comfort. Comfort is good, but so is laughter, maybe better. One of the really big lessons for a young person is: shit happens. When it does, if you can possibly arrange to laugh at it, that’s almost always the best thing to do. It establishes (depending on the listener’s mood) that you are courageous or witty or fun to be around. These are all much better than the alternatives.
This same boy on Friday fell out of a tree and picked up a really dramatic-looking cut down the side of his face. So I’ve been having great fun telling everyone that he got in a swordfight with a vicious pirate. Which he enjoys debunking every time, but not without snickers. Snickers are good.
At the end of the day we and any Gods we believe in face Ragnarök, and laughing in its face is the way to go.
So when my children are hurt I pick them up and comfort them as best I can (not as well as their mother) but also I try to help them see how falling off a party balloon is funny, and how seeing that can really help.
Humor is the ultimate self-defense for the soul.
Comment feed for ongoing:
From: Reinout van Rees (Jun 17 2007, at 14:38)
You assert such an unbelievable amount of influence by your reactions. As a parent. I approach the difference in height between a train's floor level and the platform as a funny challenge. In short, a joyful "JUMP" and a guiding hand will do the trick.
I have seen other 6 year old kids practically crawling into a train with wobbly shaking knees just because their parents stood next to them wringing their hands in anguish. All the same time, my then-3-year-old was happily jumping in and out of a train all the time (as it was still quite some time before departure).
So: guard your reactions as a parent. Tim, you're right :-)
From: John Cowan (Jun 17 2007, at 22:55)
"When I was young, I had three different theories of child-raising; now I have three children of my own, and no theories left."
--I don't know
From: Andrew Phoenix (Jun 18 2007, at 13:36)
You are right about minding your reactions, but it is certainly one of the toughest things to do as a parent. We always try to laugh first when our little one has a mishap, but sometimes the spills are such that it is incredibly hard to muster a laugh. Just yesterday, the wee one and I (during our Father's Day alone time while my partner was at church) had a bit of a scare, when her Dora Deck Chair decided to fold in on itself *and* fall over at the same time, with her in it.
It was very difficult not to freak out a bit - it scared the bejesus out of me.