Saturday, September 24, 2005

Fathers and Heroes

My father was my first hero. I know that’s not all that unusual, but it’s important to me for obvious reasons. What is a little more unusual is that he’s still one of my heroes, and he has never once stopped being one. I’ve added others along the way, people like Robert Heinlein, Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer, who exemplify what I want to be like. But Dad has always been first and foremost.

Dad was instrumental in making me who I am today. He gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given, or heard given to anyone else: “Everything has consequences, good and bad. If the results are worth the consequences, then do it. If not, then don’t.” I doubt those are his exact words, but they’re close enough. And they may seem self-evident now, but to a teenager who was struggling with trying to be an adult, they were words to live by, and they still are. This advice underlies my entire philosophy of life, and it was just something Dad tossed off one day. But, boy, did it strike a chord with me.

Incidentally, he also gave me the best piece of “college advice” I’ve ever heard: “I don’t want anybody falling out of a window drunk. I don’t want anyone coming up HIV positive. Other than that, you’re on your own.”

Heck, every hobby I have is either directly or indirectly linked to something my Dad did with me. He introduced me to comic books (Superman movies and BSG comics), science fiction (Star Wars and Doctor Who), gaming (River Raider and Kaboom!), fantasy (Shannara and Dragonlance), good music (The Moody Blues and Kansas), and chess. I think we discovered anime (Akira and Nausicaa) together, but I may be mistaken.

Through the years, Dad taught me to not judge people by what they are, just who they are. By example, he showed me what a good work ethic was, and that rules existed for a reason, and should be enforced for those reasons. He also showed me that there were times when the rules should be broken. (I’ll never forget the time he snuck me into the observation room for my first look at my baby sister.) He encouraged me in thinking for myself, and being self-reliant. I watched him cry over the loss of his grandfather, and because of that, I realized that all the macho male bullshit that is so prevalent in America is just that, bullshit. He’s always wanted me to be my own person, and I think I am, mostly because of him. He always gave me his best when I was growing up, and I benefited from that more than I will ever know. I love him more than I will ever be able to express. I'm sure he's made some mistakes along the way (although I'm hard-pressed to think of one at the moment), but it doesn't matter. He is my only model for what a good father should be, and he makes me want to be the same way with kids of my own someday.

That’s what’s so frustrating about my current situation. My wife and I are having some technical difficulties in the parenthood department, and I get so depressed at times that I can barely stand it. It doesn’t help that most of the people my age around me, friends and strangers alike, are having kids. I feel an ache in my heart every time I hear that yet another person is going to be a dad, while I keep waiting and waiting.

What’s worse is that my wife wanted to start trying to have children years ago, and I said no. She pushed every emotional button I had, and I said no anyway. It hurt me to the core of my being to do it, because the part of me that wanted to be like Dad was jumping up and down in agreement. But the part of me that IS like Dad knew that I wasn’t ready to give a child my best effort yet. If my wife had gotten pregnant unexpectedly, then I would have welcomed it wholeheartedly, and done my best. But, given the choice, I had to wait. I wanted a better financial situation, I wanted better living conditions, I wanted a stronger relationship with my wife and I wanted to grow up a little more. I had a plethora of reasons to wait, and only one reason to go ahead. And the fact that L. wanted a baby RIGHT NOW just wasn’t enough for me to justify giving my (potential) children less than my best.

Then, a little over three years ago, I finally had everything I wanted, except better living conditions. So, I made a deal with L. that if we could buy a house, we could start working on a family. My wife, being the amazing woman she is, then went out and found a way for us to buy a house. All-righty! Children, here we come! L. went off birth control and we anxiously anticipated our coming parenthood.

Time passed, and although we had a few near misses, we’re still not parents. Then two of our friends get pregnant. I’ve got to say, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was hard as hell for me to be happy for them, because here I am, having worked hard to get ready to have kids, and then have some trouble having them, and here they are, swanning through life with their “If you wait until you can afford it, you’ll never do it” attitude, having their first easily. It was a bitter pill, but I kept telling myself that Mother Nature’s funny like that. My time would come.

It was about this time that one of those friends tried to tell my wife that I was resistant to having kids because I didn’t want to change my lifestyle. That I was comfortable and didn’t want kids to come along and mess things up for me. I must admit, I was pissed. I had what I thought were very good reasons for doing things the way I had, and here is my friend, who is supposed to know me so well, saying that I didn’t even want children! But, I tried to take it as constructive criticism, so I took what he said and I looked at it from every angle, poked it with sticks, and then blew it up so that I could look at it from the inside. And I realized something.

He was full of shit.

I have never in my life NOT wanted children. I have looked forward to having kids since I met my wife. Met her, not married her. I want children, and I definitely want L. to be their mother. I ache inside, waiting for this to happen. So, how could this friend of mine be so off base about me? To this day, I don’t know.

But I also know that even though L. tried to use emotional judo on me right after we got married, I was right in waiting. Hell, I didn’t even know I had an emotional disorder back then. I can’t even imagine what my kids would have been like if I’d jumped in the parent pool right after I got married. But, hurt as much as it did, I did hold out, and I am immensely glad that I did. L. finally came around, too. She looks back at where we were and shudders at how badly things could have gone. She’s grown up, I’ve grown up and we’ve grown together in ways that would never have happened if we hadn’t waited. I don’t regret it one minute.

But L.’s attempts at emotional judo did make me ponder some things pretty hard, and I’ve come to a realization, about life in general, not just having children.

If someone says, “We have to have a baby before I’m thirty because…”, then they are pushing an agenda. It may not be a bad agenda, but it’s an agenda. This applies to “You should buy a house before you’re 25.” It applies to “We have to do a bike tour across Europe before summer ends.” These are ultimatums. I know that it probably doesn’t feel that way, and L. will feel bad when she sees that I’ve put it this way, but saying, “I want to have a baby before I’m thirty.” is an ultimatum. It’s really saying, “You have until this date to come around to my way of thinking, or else.”

Now, I know that there are doctors that say that pregnancy after thirty is an at-risk pregnancy. I also know that there are other doctors that say thirty-five. And there are still other doctors that help post-menopausal fifty-somethings get pregnant and have children. Doctors are experts, but they are not infallible. There are no magic numbers. There are no definitive cut-off dates. If you get pregnant when you’re twenty-nine and a half, are you at risk? How about thirty and a half? Right, every case is a different case, and needs to be treated accordingly.

Guess where I got that idea from.

That’s right. My father. So, as much as it pains me to watch those around me getting the things I want so badly, I am patient. Everything comes about in its own time. I can be content in knowing that I have done the best I can for myself, my wife, and my future family. That’s what a good father does. I can’t say that from an actual father’s viewpoint yet, but I can say it from an appreciative son’s perspective. And in time, I will be able to say it from both.

Thanks, Dad.

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"Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul..." -- Mark Twain

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Fire does not wait for the sun to be hot,

Nor the wind for the moon, to be cool.

-- the Zenrin Kushu